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Yoga & Pilates: The Fountain of Youth

Do you want to know the secret to keeping young and vital for a lifetime? The secret is MOTION! That’s right… keep moving. Often you will hear a physical therapist say, “Motion is lotion;” and who doesn’t know the principle of physics that “a body in motion will stay in motion.” These phrases are not simply there to trick you into moving more. There is reason in maintaining a certain level of health and fitness--- To keep your muscles, joints, bones, nerves, and vessels capable of moving. Becoming sedentary and stagnant will produce a body that will likely have trouble kickstarting and performing the activities you are desiring. We all need to train and maintain. In physical rehabilitation, many patients ask if they will need to perform their home exercises every day for the rest of their lives. In some ways, the answer is yes. We ALL need to exercise and stay trained… not simply because we received an injury or surgery.

Motion for lifelong health, wellness, and vitality can take many forms. Among the more protective, energizing, safe, and healing forms of exercise, that can also be found in physical rehabilitative settings, are yoga and Pilates. Here, we will delve deeper into the world of Pilates and yoga to give a brief overview of what you can expect from these forms of movement and the benefits of each.

Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India, likely in the 5th or 6th century. The practice was introduced to the West in the late 19th century. Though a physical practice, yoga holds meditation and spirituality as its foundation. Yoga may be practiced by people of all ages with specific forms for children, the elderly, and even women who are pregnant.

Yoga Types:

  • Hatha

  • An umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. Hatha yoga classes may be best for beginners since they are usually slower paced than other yoga styles

  • Iyengar

  • Yoga practice that focuses on alignment as well as precise movements while controlling the breath. Generally, a variety of poses will be performed and held for long periods of time to attain a more perfect pose.

  • Iyengar relies heavily on props to help students perfect their form and go deeper into poses safely.

  • This style is considered for people with injuries, who need to work slowly and methodically.

  • Purpose: To gain greater physical awareness, strength, and flexibility

  • Kundalini

  • A 90-minute class based in spiritual and physical strengthening. Kundalini is about releasing the kundalini energy in your body that is trapped or coiled in the low spine. Kundalini yoga works on your core with fast-paced and energizing postures. Classes can be intense and involve chanting, mantras, and meditation that are often repeated for minutes.

  • Ashtanga

  • Ashtanga yoga involves a very particular sequence of physically demanding postures and is notconsidered the best option for beginners. Students practice at their own pace while a teacher moves around the room, giving adjustments and suggestions.

  • Purpose: Train the skill of attentive nonattachment for all aspects of life

  • Vinyasa

  • Vinyasa is an “athletic” yoga style, where the movement is coordinated with your breath and flows from one pose to another. Vinyasa teaching styles can vary depending on the teacher and can include many different types of poses in different sequences.

  • Bikram

  • Be ready to sweat in Bikram Yoga. This style features a sequence of set poses in a heated room that is typically set to 105 degrees F and 40% humidity. The class includes a series of 26 basic postures that are performed twice.

  • Purpose: To create a fit body and mind, allowing the physical self to unify with the spiritual self

  • Yin

  • A relaxed and slower paced style of yoga with seated postures that are held for longer periods of time. Yin is a good option for beginners, with postures being held from 45 seconds- 2 minutes as gravity does most of the work. Yin can also be a meditative yoga practice that helps you find inner peace.

  • Restorative

  • This yoga focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. You spend more time in fewer postures throughout the class. Many of the poses are modified to be easier and more relaxing. Props are used to help you sink deeper into relaxation and include blankets, bolsters, and eye pillows.

  • Prenatal

  • Yoga tailored to women in all trimesters of pregnancy. Prenatal yoga is considered one of the best types of exercise for expectant moms due to the pelvic floor work, the focus on breathing, and the bonding with the growing baby. Prenatal yoga can help mothers prepare for labor and delivery.

  • Anusara

  • A version of hatha yoga that is similar to vinyasa in its focus on alignment; however, there is a greater emphasis on the mind-body-heart connection. Expect to stop in class and gather around a student as the instructor breaks down a pose.

  • Purpose: To open the heart

  • Jivamukti

  • A vinyasa-like class infused with Hindu spiritual teachings. This yoga includes a series of chants followed by a series of poses that align with the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga and philosophy. At its core, this style emphasizes the connection to Earth as a living being. Most Jivamukti devotees follow a vegan or vegetarian philosophy and uphold animal rights.

  • Purpose: This physically vigorous and intellectually stimulating practice focuses on spiritual development

  • Power Yoga

  • This physically challenging, flowing practice will get your heart pumping while also encouraging you to find your authentic personal power in life. Power yoga is a vigorous 90-minute sequence, performed in a heated room and designed to condition the whole body. The physically challenging practice is a training ground for facing emotional and philosophical challenges that arise in your life.

  • Purpose: To create freedom, peace of mind, and the ability to live more powerfully and authentically right now

Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in Germany in the early 20th century as an “art of controlled movements.” This exercise routine has been historically used to appropriately and safely train ballet dancers’ strength and flexibility. The regimen can improve flexibility, build strength, and develop control and endurance in the entire body as it puts emphasis on 6 Principles:

  1. Concentration

  2. Control

  3. Center

  4. Flow

  5. Precision

  6. Breath

Foundationally, Pilates seeks to strengthen the core, or “powerhouse,” which consists of the front body abdominals, side obliques, low back, and hips. The powerhouse is paramount to a person's overall stability. As a workout, the Pilates' system allows for a variety of exercises to be modifiable for all levels of experience, from beginner to advanced.

Joseph Pilates created a number of pieces of equipment that he termed "apparatuses," which were designed to accelerate the process of stretching, strengthening, body alignment, and increase core strength. These include the Reformer, Cadillac (or Trapeze), Wunda Chair, High "Electric" Chair, Spine Corrector, Ladder Barrel, and Pedi-Pole. The use of an apparatus is for the purpose of teaching exercises that cannot be performed on a mat and can either make movements easier or more intense by assisting or by resisting the work through the use of springs.

Pilates, like yoga, has been molded into different iterations over the years to include Classical Pilates, Contemporary Pilates, Clinical Pilates, etc. Let’s take a look at the most popular versions of Pilates.

Pilates Types:

  • Mat Pilates

  • Performed on the ground, Mat Pilates is how Joseph Pilates originally began his teachings. You will be lying on a Pilates mat, which is thicker than a yoga mat, and will use little to no equipment. This version of Pilates is considered an authentic and effective Pilates workout that uses gravity and your own body weight as resistance.

  • Classical Pilates (aka Traditional Pilates, Romana Pilates, New York Pilates, True Pilates)

  • Keeping true to the work of Joseph Pilates, Classical Pilates follows the original series of movements, performed in a specific order, and designed to build on the one before. To preserve the original teachings of Joseph and Clara Pilates, classes should be taught by highly trained instructors of the Pilates method.

  • Compared to other types of Pilates, Classical Pilates tends to be flexion biased, with more forward based movements. For those with a diagnosis of spondylolisthesis or increased lordotic lumbar spine this can be a very good option. However, for those who have a spinal disc protrusion or bulge, increasing flexion may present a problem.

  • Contemporary Studio Pilates (aka Modern Pilates)

  • This version of Pilates is seen by many as the most comprehensive style for catering to everything from rehabilitation and sports training to general fitness and pregnancy. The classes often combine Classical Pilates with a contemporary twist to include the equipment and modern understanding of biomechanics, sports science, and physical therapy.

  • Here, you can expect teachers to invent and modify exercises on the spot in order to achieve the best outcomes for their clients. Work on the floor mat may be instructed, Pilates apparatuses may be used, and various props are often implemented.

  • Clinical Pilates

  • Usually a physical therapist instructed Pilates for rehabilitative purposes. Clinical Pilates can include mat work, props, or other exercise equipment. Clinical Pilates training largely focuses on current research to train stabilizer muscles to reduce low back pain. A clinician may help a client activate pelvic floor muscles and the transverse abdominus by use of an ultrasound machine to provide real-time images of a client’s muscular contractions. The expertise and knowledge of the clinician provides a diagnosis of the client’s status and guides the flow of the prescribed movements for safety and effectiveness.

  • Reformer

  • Reformer Pilates guides clients through a series of exercises on the Reformer apparatus to emphasize flow. The Reformer utilizes resistance springs to increase or decrease difficulty. Large classes, between 8- 30 people, can be fun and energetic and get you working up a sweat. These classes can be great options for improving overall fitness.

Given the concentration on core strength and balance, flexibility, and overall wellness within both yoga and Pilates, both exercise formats are recommended for improving individual health and vitality. Yoga and Pilates have been found helpful to improve posture, increase safety with exercise movements, as well and prevent injury in daily activities. Often, physical therapists pull from yoga and Pilates exercises to create a solid, functional therapeutic exercise regimen. Whether it is yoga or Pilates, beginner or advanced class, modifications can always be made to tailor your individual experience and cater to your unique needs and personal health goals. Let Pilates and yoga be the next step on your journey to achieving your best self!

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