Mind-Body’s Shakespearian Tragedy

Pilates versus Yoga.  Meet the Montagues and the Capulets of mind-body exercise.  

“Two households, both alike in dignity….”  Two methods, both alike in purpose… yet instructors from both families defend their turf with zealousness that belies the inner nature inherent in both forms.   Pilates instructors swear off yoga, stating unsafe instruction, chanting, and obtuse spirituality, excessive overstretching, all as reasons to avoid this ancient training form.    Yogis find Pilates a little bit dull, more clinical, and too exclusive. 

As a Pilates instructor of over ten years, you may think I’d be siding with the Montagues and be prepared to defend my family to the death.  Sword drawn and reasoned thought thrown out the window.   Yet, when given the choice for my own alternative workout – I typically grab my mat and go down the street to mingle with the Capulet’s and ponder my downward dog.   

I found a great connection with Anusara yoga…in part due to its committment to building community and connections in and out of class.  I love the grounding at the beginning of class which brings me focus and readies me to pay attention and let go of the other thoughts filling up my head, competing for my attention.   I set an intent for that workout – compassion, focus, discipline.  I try to honor that intent and make it stick not just in class, but for the rest of the day.   The classes challenge me but its the time for play that hooked me.  Headstands, forearm balances, handstands, crow – all chances to fall on your face, all opportunities to laugh through the challenge.   

The pillow and the blanket are even welcomed at the end of class, when I let my body rest in corpse pose – the weight of the floor supporting my body…I find I now enjoy the 5-10 minutes quiet contemplation, and look forward for the opportunity to clear my head and let go before moving forward.  

The irony is that Pilates borrowed a lot from yoga.  Yoga has been around 5,000 plus years.  Pilates simply took the study of the movements and asanas themselves and applied them with a modern approach to anatomy and physical therapy emphasis – leaving the dogma and spirituality behind.

Its more clinical approach is easier to digest for many athletes and rehab patients.  Its hard enough to get people to slow down, focus on the breath, and THINK about what their muscles are doing, but add in the possibility of incense, chanting, and pretzel-like contortions associated with yoga sterotypes and you won’t get a foot in the door!   Pilates is less threatening, and typically safer.  

Before you Capulets get all up in arms, with the ‘safer’ comment.  Consider yoga in all its forms and all its pretzel like asanas.  Now consider how easy it is to call yourself a yoga instructor.  I’ve been to some truly painful classes ‘taught’ by instructors with little to no yoga experience.   I’ve coined the term ‘Bullshit Yoga’ for these classes that I’ve forced myself to endure, all the while wanting to walk out.  I’ve seen these teachers encourage beginner students to try headstands, full backbends, and plough with no knowledge of how to safely cue these for a healthy student, much less one coming in with injury issues.   These are the same instructors that encourage me to ‘shake it out’ in between asanas, and the nightmare instructor that actually counted breaths in each pose, the whole class was a series of her proving nothing but her ability to count to five. 

Its time to put aside the age old feud and recognize that the two methods benefit each other.  Pilates’ focus on abdominal strength and stabilization makes one’s yoga practice stronger.  Yoga’s focus on breathing and, uh, focus, improve Pilates.   Whether you be Montague or Capulet  – its the melding of the two families that makes you stronger in the long run.  Inbreeding only weakens it, and creates two headed babies…but I digress.

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2 thoughts on “Mind-Body’s Shakespearian Tragedy

  1. I’ve been doing yoga on and off for 36 years now (since i was 14) and if “dogma and spirituality” are part of it, it’s news to me! Certainly a lot of people who are into yoga bring in some hippy pseudo Indian spirituality type stuff, but that’s them, not yoga.

    “Yoga” means lots of different things, of course – and some of its meanings do have spiritual connotations. But the term “yoga” when used in a “western” context usually refers to “hatha yoga”, which i guess is spiritual to the extent that it promotes mental wellbeing – but it’s not spiritual in a “religious” way.

  2. In a gym setting, and some private studios, you maybe aren’t exposed to ‘yoga’. You are essentially doing yoga postures in a fitness format…lots of yoga teacher trainings are geared for that. But yoga, IS Hindu in its roots and spirituality is part of what makes yoga, yoga…its up to the student’s how deeply you go. The postures (asanas) are the physical practice.

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