When it comes to practicing self-care, many effective options exist. Two that relate specifically to physical movement are yoga and Pilates.

When it comes to practicing self-care, many effective options exist. Two that relate specifically to physical movement are yoga and Pilates.

What’s the difference between them—and which one is right for you?

Yoga Defined

Defining yoga can be difficult, according to the Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit association created to represent the yoga community, as there are many different perspectives of what it is.

A few of these perspectives are academic in nature and others tend to be more philosophical.

Additionally, because it is largely dependent on the relationship that is created and exists between teacher and student, there are multiple approaches to this particular practice.

Some are based in traditional yoga, which was developed thousands of years ago in India, with newer approaches being offered in more modern times.

Despite all of these variances, the Yoga Alliance’s website indicates that, at a basic level, yoga is “a system, not of beliefs, but of techniques and guidance for enriched living.” Its number-one goal is to help individuals increase their levels of well-being physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that yoga can offer its participants many benefits. These range from relief from low-back pain to lower levels of depression, even providing improvements in function and level of disability.

Pilates Defined

Pilates was developed fewer than 100 years ago (in the 1920s) according to the Mayo Clinic, defining it as “a method of exercise that consists of low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements.”

Thus, the goal of this form of exercise is more physical in nature and tends to be centered on improving one’s core strength, posture, and balance.

Research confirms the physical effects of Pilates.

For instance, one study published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011 found that Pilates can significantly help improve flexibility of the trunk and pelvic regions while also reducing the likelihood of sustaining an injury to the body’s axial musculoskeletal system (skull, spine, ribs and sternum).

Another study, this one a systematic review published in 2014 in PLOS One, looked at two separate studies involving Pilates and its effect on low-back pain.

Based on the results of each of these, the reviewers concluded that “Pilates exercise offers greater improvements in pain and functional ability compared to usual care and physical activity in the short term.”

Which is Right For You?

Because each form of movement offers its own benefits, how do you know which one will likely help you the most in your personal self-care regimen? Answering this question may first require that you consider your goals.

If you’re looking for a form of self-care that is based solely on physical improvements, then Pilates may be enough. However, if you want to develop a routine that also offers enhancements mentally, physically and spiritually, yoga may leave you feeling more satisfied.

It also helps to consider any current health issues you may be experiencing and whether, as a result, one of these options is better suited to help you find relief. Or you can do both, which is what one up-and-coming massage therapist does.

Melissa Danielle is a massage therapy student living in Hawaii who has utilized both Pilates and yoga to address physical pain.

“After learning that arthritis was developing in my knees, I went to see a physical therapist,” she says. “From that experience, I learned that my knees were not the problem, they were just responding to larger structural misalignments.”

The larger structural misalignments that Danielle references were largely due to weak abdominal muscles, causing her body to pull forward while also tightening her hips.

“I also have anterior pelvic tilt,” says Danielle. “As my leg muscles are tightening to compensate, it’s causing my lower back muscles to tighten up and become sore.”

As practicing massage requires a considerable amount of core strength, her pain is preventing her from giving the best sessions possible.

“All of this is a distraction from the practice massages I am giving, and recovery takes a bit longer than usual,” she says.

To help with this, she has begun doing Pilates in an attempt to strengthen her core and increase her level of overall endurance. Yoga has also been beneficial to her health and wellness.

“One of the standing positions we learned when giving massage is a modified warrior pose,” says Danielle. “This posture helps us maintain proper body mechanics. A Hatha or Vinyasa practice can help us realign and maintain our own body awareness, which will in turn support our work.”

The mental benefits of yoga have also helped her in her massage therapy training.

“Breathwork, which is one of the eight limbs of yoga, can help us transition between sessions as well as maintain our energy during the massage session,” she says.

Incorporating Yoga and Pilates Into Your Self-Care Regimen

If you’re new to yoga and Pilates and want to incorporate either or both into your current self-care regimen, there are a few things you can do to help ease the transition.

For yoga specifically, yoga teacher Karen Costa, writing for Yoga International, shares that, if you’re going to practice at a health care facility or studio, ask the teacher what type of yoga class is most suitable for your fitness history, any injuries you may have or physical limitations.

Additionally, remember that yoga is not a competition, so focus more on yourself and your own body rather than worrying about how you compare to the person on the mat next to you.

Costa also stresses that you should always listen to your body and, if you experience any pain, stop and go back to one of the “home base” postures—which includes child’s pose, mountain or easy seated—so you don’t risk injury. Don’t worry so much about stopping your thoughts while practicing yoga either. Just notice them and then let them go.

If it’s Pilates you want to try, the Mayo Clinic shares that “it’s a good idea to go slow at first and gradually increase the intensity of your workout.” Further, if you have a herniated disk or severe osteoporosis, or if you struggle with unstable blood pressure or have an elevated risk of blood clots, Pilates may not be the best form of exercise for you.

With yoga and Pilates, one is not necessarily better than the other. They’re just different forms of self-care that can each help provide higher levels of health.

About the Author

Christina DeBusk is a freelance writer dedicated to providing readers relevant, research-backed content related to health and wellness, personal development, safety, and small business ownership.

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