I was into yoga before I started Pilates so I guess you could say yoga was my first adult love, after dance. Yoga is for everyone, but many people who are naturally flexible (and often hyper mobile) are drawn to yoga because it gives us a sense of winning - we can already touch our toes! Having grown up in the dance world I was pretty comfortable with stretching, and back then, that's what yoga was to me. A nice long stretch class. Of course many years later I realise it's much more than that (that's a topic for another blog post!).
I only started doing Pilates more regularly when I started teacher training. I had been teaching Zumba for a couple of years. Zumba, as you may or may not know, involves a fair bit of hip shaking, booty popping fun. I had gone from a full time desk job to teaching 5 Zumba classes a week (amongst other classes) and I was starting to feel a bit achey around my lower back - most likely as a result of excessive inexperienced twerking and no core strength.
Ever the strategist, I started to think about the longevity of my career. Zumba was MASSIVE at the time, but I didn't know if it would last, or what the next big craze would be, and I wanted to add something that would help look after my body and that I would enable me to teach regardless of crazes, fads, my own abilities. I hoped to start a family and wanted something I could carry on whilst pregnant and essentially for the rest of my life (even if I broke a leg) - yes I'm that dramatic, and my long term planning covers every possibility. Having decided to make a career out of moving my frame, I was determined to protect and look after my body and already having a home yoga practice, it seemed to me that what was missing, was Pilates.
Our teacher training started with a couple of intense classroom weeks where we started each day with a Pilates class. I remember getting the train home at the end of each day and literally aching - not just from the Pilates but from the effort of sitting upright as our rigrouous (and wonderful) teachers ensured we maintained good posture as we sat, listened discussed and learned. My body changed more quickly than at any other time in my life - with seemingly very little effort. I held myself differently. My clothes fit differently. My body literally changed shape and I continued to feel stronger and stronger.
But more than that I felt like I'd been given a secret super power. I remember giving surfing a go on my honeymoon - which was within 6 months of starting Pilates. Until then I'd really struggled with popping up (when I very occasionally dabbled). I didn't have the strength to quickly bring my whole body from lying to being upright in one movement. I remember the first time I went surfing after taking up Pilates and literally I sprang on to my feet - much to my own amazement. It didn't even feel like an effort.
The first time I got to grips with headstands wasn't after practicing loads of yoga - it was after throwing myself into Pilates. Again it just felt effortless as my legs floated upwards. I also remember the shock doing daily Pilates and then kicking my legs in the air and discovering I could balance there (on my hands) for more than a few seconds.
My relationship with Pilates changed again through pregnancy and after having a c-section with my first child. It was a shock to feel so weak, and so unstable. I had taken so much for granted but I enjoyed re-discovering my strength and stability - it actually proved a huge learning opportunity for me to discover more about my body works, understanding the importance of pelvic stability only when I understood how it felt to have very little.
People often ask me if they should do Pilates or yoga - as if it's some sort of conundrum. When the answer to me seems obvious - you should do both (or at least elements of both)! Sometimes my Pilates practice is more like a yoga session and sometimes it's the other way around. I love rooting my awareness in conscious movement of the body and breath - I get that from both. I love switching off from what else is going on and concentrating on moving my body with mindfulness and awareness. I love balancing mobility with stability and I get that from both.
There are different styles of yoga and Pilates and different styles of teachers so it's hard to generalise (apologies therefore for the huge amount of generalising). In the end it's all labels - I follow many yoga teachers whose teaching encompasses the principals of Pilates and I too often blur the lines. Yoga isn't just stretching. Pilates isn't just core. Sometimes my yoga practice leaves my abs burning, sometimes my Pilates practice leaves me feeling at my most flexible.
I've noticed that many students find the switch from one to the other a challenge at first. But what great things don't challenge us at first? The 2 complement each other so much it's worth sticking with. And I often find that what you're initially drawn to isn't always what you need - like me as a flexible 18 year old enjoying the stretchiness of my first yoga classes, when really a bit of stability and strength would have served me better (disclaimer: I'm not suggested you can't find stability and strength in yoga).
We need both mobility and stability for our bodies to work at their best. Whether that comes from a a yoga class or a Pilates class doesn't matter. But it's important that we include both in our practice.
I used to feel like I was cheating on yoga with Pilates... but I now realise that we're in a happy family and we all live together quite easily. Although I think I owe yoga a wee love letter of it's own after this outpouring!
What about you? Are you ready to have an open relationship with Pilates and yoga? Let me know in the comments!
If you're interested in practicing more Pilates (or trying it out) we are celebrating March Mat-ness - a global celebration of Pilates - at Sandwickhill Studio, by doing Pilates every day throughout March. Join me for 31 days of Pilates online https://www.sandwickhillstudios.com/adult-classes/marchmatness2021