All of us want to become more flexible. Improving your muscles’ flexibility can help you benefit from a better posture, fewer injuries, and enhanced well-being. Of course, we know that becoming more flexible is a marathon rather than a sprint, but which journey should we trust, Yoga or Pilates?
Yoga is an ancient discipline developed into several types, each more suited for a specific goal. However, overall, yoga is better for flexibility as it accentuates stretching and holding asanas for several breath cycles. Pilates focuses on core strength, weight loss, and muscle building.
Both practices can yield excellent benefits to the body and mind, and combining them can indeed offer you all you need to live a healthy lifestyle. However, if you can only practice one of the two, find the best practice for you below.
The Importance of Flexibility
Everybody exercises for different reasons, and having a clear goal when exercising is the key to success. Common goals include weight loss, muscle growth, and a lean core. However, flexibility is also a critical aspect that should not be relegated to a few minutes of stretches, lounges, and twists at the end of your workout.
Flexibility refers to the ability we have to move our joints through their full range of motion. Most of us are born with this skill, but we often lose over time because of our sedentary and movement-wise restricted lifestyle.
Focusing on flexibility can yield incredible benefits and even support your training or daily exercise. You might just love running, cycling, or swimming in your free time, or you might be working towards being a professional athlete. In any case, you will need a high level of flexibility to have the range of motion necessary to elevate your performance.
Without the necessary flexibility, it is common to experience injuries, tightness, stiffness, and discomfort. These conditions can also lead to inflammation and pain instances, taking months or years to resolve.
So, let’s find out what is the best type of practice to unlock your flexibility potential.
Yoga: Best for Flexibility and Balance
Yoga is an ancient practice that can be dated to over 5,000 years ago. It has been developing over time, and many new types of yoga – such as Power Yoga and Hot Yoga – have been designed to meet the modern audience’s changing needs.
In its purest form, yoga is a comprehensive practice that merges physical and psychological aspects. According to Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra, the religious text that laid the principles of yoga, there are eight limbs to this practice. However, modern yogis and yoginis focus primarily on the limbs of asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing).
In most classes, you are likely to be experiencing these two aspects. In turn, these aspects are also the most important ones to improve flexibility and balance.
Indeed, initially, asanas represented the training necessary for yogis to endure long hours of meditation. Today, they are still extremely helpful in helping you achieve levels of flexibility, balance, synchronization, range of motion, and endurance that few other disciplines will offer.
You can find more about the development of yoga and the benefits it yields on the body and mind in the video below:
Who Is Yoga For?
Yoga is not necessarily the most suitable practice for anybody who wishes to increase muscle and joint flexibility. Indeed, there are several stretches, such as static, dynamic, and PNF, that are likely to offer you some levels of flexibility – mostly when practiced before or after your regular workout.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore the benefits that yoga can bring to your lifestyle. The main accent in yoga classes is that this practice is not a competition but rather a personal journey. Each side of your body might feel differently, and it is not uncommon to feel stiffer some days than others.
Yoga considers all this and allows you to work at your own pace. You will start to practice asanas such as forward bend, monkey pose, or just downward-facing dog. These asanas will undoubtedly lengthen your muscles, but you will do so by synchronizing them with your breathing and using your breath to go even deeper into the pose.
This practice offers you a full-body experience that can help you better understand how your body, muscles, and joints work, allowing you to unlock new movements and depths each time.
Pilates: Best for Core Strength and Endurance
Pilates is a relatively new practice, especially if compared to yoga. This practice is a type of low-impact physical fitness discipline invented by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. It was initially used as a drug-free way to regain physical health, especially after an injury or counterproductive lifestyle.
Still close to its original aim, Pilates still offers a particular focus on posture, body alignment, and core strength. Today, an estimation tells us that over 9 million people practice this discipline, particularly in western countries.
The benefits that this practice offers are delivered through a series of postures and repetition. When joining a Pilates class, you will gain the focus and concentration necessary to hold and repeat a particular pose.
Pilates still embraces the principle that the mind’s well-being is connected to the body’s health. However, spirituality is more likely to be addressed in a yoga class than in a Pilates session.
Who Is Pilates For?
Both yoga and Pilates will require you to stick to a strict routine of classes and exercise to see your wanted flexibility. Nonetheless, if you wish to speed up this process, opting for yoga classes instead of Pilates can help you.
Indeed, Pilates is an excellent form of exercise if you wish to strengthen your muscles, build muscle mass, feel energized, and work on your core strength. If you decide to dedicate time to this discipline, you will also find out that several props such as balls and straps help you progress in your Pilates journey.
It is essential to keep in mind that Pilates, being a low-impact, multi-level discipline, is suitable for anybody and can assist you in your goal of becoming functionally strong and flexible.
Combining Yoga and Pilates
Combining yoga and Pilates is an ideal solution to look after all critical aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Yoga will provide you with the mental clarity, relaxation, and peace you need to keep everyday life stress at bay.
The practice does so by encouraging you to follow your breath flow and shift from an asana to another. To do so with grace, balance, flexibility, and endurance are all necessary aspects of cultivating.
Oppositely, Pilates does not have that spiritual aspect that makes yoga so unique, but it can still be extremely beneficial if you wish to strengthen your muscles and harden your core.
If you decide to combine the two practices, you will be able to benefit from a complete, full-body exercise that will give you all the flexibility you desire – in addition to a strong core, legs, and upper body.
Yoga and Pilates are both low-impact practices that can help you strengthen your core, lengthen the muscles, and improve your balance. They can help you increase your heart rate and offer you the chance of a full-body workout. However, they don’t focus on those aspects equally.
If your personal goal is to be more flexible, then yoga should be your choice. Depending on the class you have picked, you might practice faster-paced flows or more meditative practices. However, yoga does accentuate the importance of flexibility, which is at the core of specific postures, inversions, and twists.
- Wikipedia: Asana
- UC Davis Health: Flexibility | UC Davis Sports Medicine
- Harvard Health Publishing: Benefits of flexibility exercises
- Wikipedia: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
- Michigan State University: Bend, Not Break: The Importance of Maintaining Flexibility
- Yoga Journal: Monkey Pose
- Statista: Number of participants in pilates training in the United States from 2006 to 2018