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Yoga and Pilates: What’s the Difference?

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Yoga’s boat poseYoga’s Navasana or “boat” pose, courtesy of AsthangaYoga.infoThe Teaser as shown by Joseph PilatesJoseph Pilates doing the Teaser, courtesy the Pilates Method AllianceBy Sherri R. Betz, PT
Ever had a client ask, “What are the differences between yoga and Pilates?” As you stammer out a hopefully intelligent-sounding answer, unconvinced even in your own mind as to the difference, you probably just hope the client doesn’t ask again! 
You may have heard this joke: The difference between Pilates and yoga is that in yoga you close your eyes and think about god and in Pilates you keep your eyes open and think about your abs! And one guru said the purpose of yoga is to become more flexible so that you could sit comfortably to meditate. Yoga certainly is more than that.
I write this in trepidation of offending the beautiful yoga and Pilates practitioners around the world. I hope to distill some of the information about yoga and Pilates looking at some of the differences and similarities between them to help practitioners understand these popular forms of movement.

My yoga practice began in Louisiana (when no one did yoga there!) at about the age of 15. At the local library, I happened to pick up The Sivananda Companion to Yoga and started trying out some of the poses and breathing. (Actually, I skipped the breathing and avoided it for many years until I did my Pilates training and was forced to learn to breathe!) Now I am devoted to my Ashtanga/Vinyasa yoga practice and my Pilates work to keep my body in shape and to add a spiritual component to my life. It has been very interesting to compare a movement practice that has been around for 2,000 years with one that has been around for only about 80 years. 

[Click here to jump to background descriptions of common form of yoga practiced in the United States.]

[Click here to jump to a background description of Pilates.]

Range of Motion
One of the main differences between contemporary Pilates and yoga is that Pilates begins with small range of motion and progresses toward end range joint movement while yoga tends to hold postures at end range of joint motion and muscle length. This tends to make yoga postures more risky for the beginner or injured student. There seems to be an easy fix to this dilemma in that the teacher might suggest to the yoga student to go to 75 percent of their range of motion and hold there. This would build strength in the musculature that supports the joints, protect joint structures, such as capsules and ligaments, from getting overstretched, thus, reduce the risk for injury.

Postures and Poses
Another interesting difference between Pilates mat and yoga classes is that yoga begins often with the Sun Salutation series that includes standing poses and push-ups while Pilates mat classes are meant to end with the 34th exercise, the Push-Up. Yoga warms up with standing postures and ends lying down and Pilates begins in supine positions and ends standing up. Yoga’s relaxation pose at the end of yoga class is meant to help the body integrate the postures, and Pilates’ purpose for ending in standing is to prepare the body for re-integration into functional daily activities. 

Self-Care Practices
In regard to personal hygiene and self-care practices, most yoga styles recommend bathing before class, eating a vegetarian diet, avoiding eating at least two hours before class and drinking plenty of water. Joseph Pilates made many recommendations for personal hygiene in his books Return to Life and Your Health. John Steele, a former client, friend and attorney of Joseph Pilates stated in a lecture at the 2007 PMA Conference in Orlando, Fla., “Joe was a strong advocate for personal hygiene—he actually got into the shower with clients to teach them how to exfoliate their bodies with a hard bristle brush!” (Showering was not a common practice back then—most people took baths.)  An archival video actually exists of Joseph demonstrating hard bristle brush exfoliation, nostril water cleansing and rough towel drying! 

We certainly know that yoga stemmed from the Hindu religion, which drives many of the physical yoga practices we see today. Yoga practices usually incorporate a form of meditation or spiritual reflection for the purposes of achieving enlightenment. In contrast, not much is known about Joseph Pilates’ spiritual or religious beliefs other than that he felt that his Contrology method—as he called what is now known as Pilates—was “the complete coordination of mind, body and spirit.” He stated in his writings that the “trinity” (mind, body and spirit) with the adoption of the principles of Contrology was necessary to achieve spiritual peace and everlasting happiness. Most of his statements about the benefits and goals of Pilates centered around mental clarity, zest for life and better concentration. In most Pilates classes and teacher training programs, this trinity, as a way to achieve spiritual peace, is rarely mentioned.

Yoga Bandhas
Yoga Bandhas often are forgotten pieces of Hatha yoga practices. Ironically, these are more often utilized and trained in Pilates than in yoga (under other names). The bandhas are meant to be used to prevent prana (life force energy) from escaping the body. Jalandhara Bandha is the Throat Chakra Lock, which prevents prana from escaping the upper body. Uddiyana Bandha is the Sexual Chakra or Abdominal Lock, and Mula Bandha is the Root Chakra Lock—preventing prana escaping from the lower body. This energy-trapping technique is facilitated by drawing in or contracting the deep neck flexors, the transversus abdominus and the pelvic floor. These structures happen to be key components in core control. The bandhas can facilitate better core, head, neck and trunk control during challenging yoga poses; especially long-lever arm movements at end range.   

Bandhas Yoga Definition Pilates Equivalent
Jalandhara Bandha Throat Chakra Lock Deep Neck Flexors
Uddiyana Bandha Sexual Chakra Lock Transversus Abdominus
Mula Bandha Root Chakra Lock Pelvic Floor


Breathing Practices in Pilates and Yoga
Most yoga practices utilize a diaphragmatic breath during their postures and sequences resulting in lower belly distention with each breath. This does not imply that Pilates breathing does not use the diaphragm. With an inhale, the diaphragm will descend no matter whether the belly is allowed to distend or remain contracted. In Pilates, the client is asked to maintain the deep abdominal contraction so that the ribcage expands laterally. This style of breathing is referred to as costal breathing. Pilates also utilizes percussive breathing or pulsed breathing on occasion with some exercises such as the Hundred.
A more specific yogic breath is the Ujjayi breath, “created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Gently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound—something like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out,” writes Tim Miller in Yoga Journal.

Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly activating the first and second chakras, rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat.
Both Pilates and yoga use breath coordinated with movement resulting in inhalation and exhalation during particular phases of exercises. There are many variations and opinions between the styles of yoga and Pilates as to when to inhale and when to exhale.
So when a client tells you that they are practicing yoga, you might just ask them what type and then go try it yourself! Going over photos of the readily available yoga postures might help your client jog their memory as to what poses they do in their yoga classes. If you are a Pilates teacher, movement teacher or physical therapist, it is a good idea to experience these methods to reap the benefits and throw out what might not be useful or even risky.


About Pilates
Pilates is a system of exercise developed by Joseph and Clara Pilates from 1925-1967. Originally called Contrology by its creator, Pilates consists of mat or floor exercises progressing from small or mid-range movements to large end-range movements with flowing quality and correct biomechanical alignment. Positions are not generally held for long periods of time, rather, the student moves into and out of positions slowly at first progressing to a rapid but controlled pace. Mat exercises are complemented with special large and small apparatus to either assist movement or to resist movement. The large apparatus utilizes springs for assisting the rehabilitation patient or for challenging the experienced mover. Costal breathing with transverses abdominus facilitation is the preferred breathing style. The original method is largely dominated by spinal flexion or forward-bending movements possibly due to Joseph Pilates idea that “the spine should be flat like a newborn baby.”

There are several styles of Pilates taught currently today. Classical or Original Pilates indicates that the teacher will be teaching the exercises exactly as Joseph taught them as well as in a particular order. Evolved or more modern Pilates means that the teacher or physical therapist might modify a particular exercise or select a group of exercises based on an initial assessment and gradually progress them to more advanced choreography.

Common Forms of Yoga Practiced in the United States
Yoga was brought to us by Hindus practicing in India. Hatha yoga is the broad term that can be used interchangeably with yoga. Astanga yoga is the term given by the philosopher/sage Patanjali, about 2,000 years ago to describe eight limbs of a path toward union of the Atman (individual soul) with Brahman (universal soul). The practice of asana and pranayama (breathing practice) are just two aspects of the eight limbs of Astanga yoga. The other six steps are: Yama (social ethics); Niyama (personal discipline); Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal); Dharana (concentration); Dhyana (meditation); and Samadhi (bliss). Below are descriptions of 12 forms of yoga practiced in the U.S. 

Hatha: Even though Hatha is considered the broad term for most of the yoga styles in the U.S., if you see a class described as Hatha, it will likely be a slow-paced stretching class with some simple breathing exercises and perhaps seated meditation. This might be a good place to learn basic poses, relaxation techniques, and become comfortable with yoga.

Vinyasa is a term, like Hatha, that covers a broad range of yoga classes. Vinyasa, which means “breath-synchronized movement,” tends to be a more vigorous style based on the performance of a series of 12 poses called Sun Salutation, in which movement is matched to the breath. This technique is sometimes also called Vinyasa Flow, or just Flow because of the smooth way that the poses run together and become like a dance. Vinyasa style of yoga is probably the most similar to the way Pilates mat is meant to be practiced.

Astanga or Ashtanga: means “8 limbs” in Sanskrit and is generally a fast-paced intense style where a set series of poses is performed, always in the same order. This style involves a very difficult series of postures that involve intense end-range positions in rotation, side-bending and flexion of the spine and strength poses that require a tremendous amount of upper-body strength in its fullest form. It stresses daily practice of constant movement from one pose to the next using ujjayi breathing, jalandhara bandha, mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and drishti (eye gaze or point of focus). Astanga is the inspiration for what is often called Power Yoga. If a class is described as Power Yoga, it will be based on the flowing style of Astanga, but not necessarily kept strictly to the set series of poses. Look over the Astanga Primary Series charts to see the postures with their Sanskrit names in their original form.

Sivananda: Traditionally, Sivananda yogis practice the sun salutations before the Asanas (postures). There is also an interesting supine relaxation pose between poses “to let the benefits of the pose integrate” that is not found in many other yoga practices. Personally, I felt that this building of energy and sudden stopping to lie down had my heart rate going up and down and my body heating up and cooling down many times throughout the class. Sivananda Yoga is based upon five principles: proper exercise (Asana) focusing on 12 poses in particular, proper breathing (Pranayama), proper relaxation (Savasana), proper diet (vegetarian) and positive thinking and meditation (Dhyana).

Bikram or “Hot Yoga” is a series of 26 specific poses and two breathing exercises developed by Bikram Choudhury performed in a room heated to 95-105°F. This wildly popular style of yoga is very dogmatic in that no (or very few) modifications are allowed. I do not recommend this style for clients who are still in acute phases of rehabilitation.

Jivamukti: This style of yoga emerged from one of New York’s popular studios. Jivamukti founders David Life and Sharon Gannon take inspiration from Astanga (like Power Yoga) and emphasize chanting, meditation and spiritual teachings, often accompanied by trendy music.

Iyengar: This form of yoga gets its name from its founder, BKS Iyengar. Iyengar focuses on precise postures with emphasis on alignment and use of props to assist students in achieving correct positions. Poses are held for minutes at a time versus flowing from one pose to the next. There are 200 postures and 14 different types of breath practices documented in this practice. This is a good style for beginners to yoga, and it is easily adapted to rehabilitation. Yin yoga holds poses in gentle, stretched, non-painful positions for at least 1 minute and up to 20 minutes at a time. The yin essence is “yielding” and allowing muscles, tendons and ligaments to lengthen over time. This form of yoga is good for clients who have ligamentous or capsular restrictions and might be a good complement to manual therapy techniques if the client is guided gently and carefully into the prolonged stretches.
Forrest: Developed by Ana Forrest, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., Forrest yoga is gaining popularity around the U.S. The performance of vigorous asana sequences is intended to strengthen and purify the body and release pent-up emotions and pain so that healing can begin. Expect an intense workout with an emphasis on abdominal strengthening and deep breathing.
Integral Yoga follows the teachings of Sri Swami Sachidananda, who came to the U.S. in the 1960s and eventually founded many Integral Yoga Institutes and the famed Yogaville Ashram in Virginia. Integral is a gentle hatha practice, and classes often include breathing exercises, chanting, kriyas (exercises and breathing techniques intended to purify and cleanse the body’s energy channels) and meditation.
Anusara: Founded in 1997 by John Friend, Anusara (meaning flowing with grace) is a Hatha Yoga system that combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment with a positive philosophy derived from Tantra. The philosophy’s premise is belief in the intrinsic goodness of all beings. Anusara classes are usually light-hearted and accessible to students of differing abilities. Poses are taught in a way that opens the heart, both physically and mentally, and props are often used. Kundalini, one of the more spiritual types of yoga, goes beyond the physical performance of poses with its emphasis on breathing, meditation and chanting. However, the Kundalini sequences are very physically intense. The Kundalini is untapped energy (prana) at the base of the spine that can be drawn up through the body, awakening each of the seven chakras. Full enlightenment is said to occur when this energy reaches the Crown Chakra. In Kundalini, the exploration of the effects of the breath on the postures is essential. It uses rapid, repetitive movements rather than poses held for a long time, and the teacher will often lead the class in chanting.


Sherri R. Betz, PT, is owner of TheraPilates Physical Therapy & Gyrotonic Studio in Santa Cruz, CA. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Pilates Method Alliance and is a principal educator for Polestar Pilates Education.



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Posted on Monday, December 22, 2008 at 01:18PM by Registered CommenterAmy Leibrock in , | Comments90 Comments | References239 References

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Great article! Very well written!!

December 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterYesPilates.com


The first thing caught my attention in this article was the pictures. Of the two, if someone asked my professional opinion about which one demonstrated healthier alignment I would undoubtedly choose the one on the left (the Yogi). The picture of Joe shows his low back in strong flexion, his pelvis caught posterior, his shoulders are shrugged up to his ears and his neck drawn into his thoracic inlet. I'm really struggling to understand how this 'alignment' is desirable in the least bit. Wondering what your thoughts were on this as a PT.?

The other comment that clarified a lot for me was the quote from Joe, "the spine should be flat like a newborn baby.". How can anyone support this belief? I think it's pretty clear that the flattened spine of a newborn is due to the fetal positioning required in the womb. After leaving the womb and entering into the outside world of gravity and space a different orientation is obviously necessary for functional healthy movement. The primary and secondary curves that develop in the infantile stages of life a extremely purposeful. A baby develops their cervical lordosis as the lay on their belly and begin lifting the head to look forward/up. The lumbar lordosis develops as they begin to push themselves up with their arms and learn to sit. The thoracic curve follows suit to counter-balance them. Etc, etc, etc... . How could anyone postulate such a theory and get away with it... ? Furthermore, how could it continue to be perpetuated with todays current understanding of development.

Any health professional with a proper education can clearly see the benefit and need of these curvatures and the consequences of not having them. What is deal with this 'theory' and why is it still being followed?

On the hygiene issue... dry skin brushing is said to be the most effective for exfoliation and 'nostril water cleansing' sounds a lot like the neti pot used in yogic practices. ....????

One last thought on the breathing approaches. Ever watch a child breath? Their abdomen remains softly distending while breathing, there's no coerced constriction of the abdominals. This forced contraction of the whole abdominal wall detrimental in my opinion (to suggest "deep" abdominal wall engagement is misleading as 1) The four layers of ab muscles are quite thin as a whole. & 2) the rectus abdominus is the most superficial at the top, costal arch and moves deeper as it travels downward toward the pubic symphasis ending up as the deepest layer.). Contraction of the wall increases intra-abdominal pressure and consequently forces the required effort of the diaphragm to descend during contraction. The emphasis on the intercostals to lift the ribs causes over-exertion/strain and consequently the scalenes in the neck work way too hard to have to elevate the first, second and sometimes third ribs. Then we end up seeing neck problems develop from hypertonic scalenes and they also pull the cervicals forward out over the ribcage, straining both the front and back of the neck.

In a more natural and relaxed breathing pattern the diaphragm descends with ease and in so doing elevates the lateral margins of the ribcage via it's internal attachment to them. In other words the fixed anchorage point during respiration changes naturally during the different phases of the inhale. Changing from the fixed point being around the internal ring of the ribcage during the first phase, to the central tendon during the next phase, thus assisting the intercostals with elevation of the ribs. The scalenes are there to assist and create superior expansion as well, but if you lock down the lower margin the upper will become over-worked and strained. There are also implication on the crus of the diaphragm, psoas, QLs and their effect on spinal positioning and stability.

Again, I'm confused how this approach to breathing came about as acceptable. And why was Joe 'picking and choosing' from different aspects of developmental ideology... ? He felt the spinal curves should remain to match that of a fetus/newborn, yet he drastically changed the pattern of breath from ease to forced, despite what we see in newborns, children and adolescents.

I appreciate your article, I think it was well written and fair. You brought up some points directly that I've been inquiring about and have yet to get any real answers/insights on from other pilates teachers. why doesn't anyone address these matters with objective thought and instead just follow the protocol because 'Joe said so'.?

Any insights from your point of view Sherri would be appreciated, especially given that you are also a PT so you have a broader perspective on this.


December 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Sherri R. Betz, PT writes:
"The original method is largely dominated by spinal flexion or forward-bending movements possibly due to Joseph Pilates idea that 'the spine should be flat like a newborn baby.'"

fyi to jw: J.H.Pilates has been misrepresented here. The 2006 PMA Position Paper: On Pilates, available on their website, not only misquotes him, but the wrong page is listed as well. Remember, english was not his first language. Much of what people say Pilates said is hearsay and quite possibly slanted to meet their purposes.

December 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend


Thanks for the clarification. ...And for the record, the 'slant' wasn't coming from, I was only responding to what was written and 'supposedly' stated.

I must admit however, that based on my experience with pilates and the repeated displays and photos alike of the exercises, it does appear that many, if not most, of the teachers out there are utilizing this spinal flexion-based alignment. I'm sure there are exceptions which prove the rule, but the evidence is pretty clear that this approach/belief is fairly dominant, even today.

Thanks Carole,

December 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Dear Sherri,
This is a difficult topic, especially to explain your view in just a few pages. While I do not agree with everything you wrote, you had the courage to commit it to paper and begin a conversation, which I respect.

December 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Carole and Sherri,

Just for the record, my response to Sherri's article was not meant to be antagonistic. I really do appreciate the article and your willingness to open a conversation on this, as Carole mentioned.


December 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

JW, Thanks for your first post. That pic of Joe brought up all my reasons for not doing classical Pilates (I was trying not to comment as I didn't want to start another heated debate!) I have utmost respect for Joe Pilates and what he started but I don't do gurus when there are so many teachers to learn from. And thanks for the past info on Diane Lee.

December 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrebelred

Thank you all for your well thought out and lengthy responses. You should write an article for Pilates Pro! I did not find JW's comments antagonistic at all.

This article was originally written 6 months ago for the APTA San Jose District newsletter by request from our district chair, Cheryl Tibbets, PT. She was interested in educating PT’s about the basic differences between Yoga styles and Pilates and encouraged me to write the article. I did not get into an in-depth biomechanical analysis in this article.

However, in reference to Joseph Pilates and his philosophy, about spinal health, he states, “Because of poor posture, practically 95 per cent of our population suffers from varying degrees of spinal curvature, not to mention more serious ailments. Of course, we all know that this is exactly as intended by nature not only then but also throughout life. However, when the spine curves, the entire body is thrown out of its natural alignment – off balance. Note daily the thousands of persons with round, stooped shoulders, and protruding abdomens. The back would be flat if the spine were kept as straight as a plumb line, and its flexibility would be comparable to that of the finest watch spring steel.
Fortunately the spine lends itself quite readily to correction. Therefore, in reclining exercises, be sure wherever indicated, to keep your back full length always pressed firmly against the mat or floor…..” This quote is from the Pilates Method Alliance (exact) printing of Return to Life with the re-mastered photos published in 2003. That is why the page number 27 reference is different from the old book published by Presentation Dynamics.

The Pilates Method Alliance position on these types of issues is that Pilates should advance along with the current concepts of modern scientific research. Some Pilates teachers are continuously refining the way we teach Pilates everyday based on new and evidenced-based information. The PMA seeks to preserve the original method, archival photos and writings of Joseph and Clara Pilates. But it doesn’t mean that we all practice and teach the method today in exactly the same way as Joseph practiced it.

In my opinion, if you take a look at the 34 exercises in Return to Life, 20 of the exercises involve spine flexion. There are only 5 spinal extension exercises and the “neutral” ones are meant to be done in flat back or lumbar flexion. It would appear that Joseph Pilates’ intention was to flatten the spine based on his writings and his selection and execution of exercises. This does not mean that we do not appreciate his genius in creating such a brilliant method of exercise in the vast repertoire and the creation of equipment to add resistance or to assist people in performing the exercises they have difficulty with. Again, to reiterate, the Pilates method is continuously being refined and adapted to specific individuals and pathologies based on proper assessment of the client or patient.

In response to JW's Teaser exercise comments, I feel that in most cases the Teaser should be done in lumbar flexion to neutralize the effect of the psoas on the lumbar spine. In this long-lever position the neutral spine position creates shear and compression forces on the vertebral bodies. In regard to the neck and shoulder positions of the photos, I agree with you completely.
Please feel free to contact me directly to have a more in-depth discussion. I would love to speak to you on this and many other topics.

December 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSherri Betz

Unfortunately in the re-typing of te text from Return to Life, I left out the main points of my argument from the quote. So sorry for this omission. "IN A NEWLY-BORN INFANT THE BACK IS FLAT BECAUSE THE SPINE IS STRAIGHT. Of course, we all know that this is exactly as intended by nature not only then but also throughout life. However, THIS IDEAL CONDITION RARELY OBTAINS IN ADULT LIFE."

December 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSherri Betz

Very true.One gets a complete workout feel at a good fitness center working with the different equipment which suits your body.


December 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPilates


Not much time to comment now, but I wanted to quickly respond to that last clarification/quote. WOW! Is that a quote from joseph pilates? If so I am shocked!

Again, the back is straight due to the unique developmental stage of the newborn's anatomy, and due to the fetal position maintained in the womb. The anterior/posterior curvatures of the spine are absolutely necessary for proper development and functional movement. It's a good thing most adults "rarely obtain" this, if so we'd be looking at cases of degenerative spinal conditions in people in their 20's,30's & 40's.

I'm not sure I understand whether this was just his belief, or if this is common belief still today in the pilates world. Can anyone clarify that for me?


December 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

This is why I feel that if you are to teach Pilates, it is absolutely imperative that you read Return to Life and Your Health, both written by Joseph Pilates. In the circles where I work and teach, the goal of a straight spine is not what we aim for. Lolita San Miguel tells me that she felt that it was Joe's aim to flatten her spine. JW, can you send me a personal email?

December 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSherri Betz

When asked this question, I always say Joe Pilates method is East(yoga) meets West(calestintics) (sp) and where yoga is more mind/body in the spiritual sense, Pilates is mind/body in the literal sense. Working the mind to connect with parts of the body most people have no idea about. Also, not all yoga breath is belly breathing, as is seen in Ashthanga. As a side point,....if one studies the video of Joe Pilates, Christmas 1935, there is not one time he does not flex the spine that he does not arch it. Also, in the arm spring series he is medial and externally roating his arms through almost every exercise. I personally believe the arching was taking out of his work by his teachers, because at sometime it was contraindicated or maybe just too hard to teach properly? But I am getting off topic. Good discussion.

December 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah McKeever Watson

Sherri & Deborah,

Thanks for the responses and clarifications... just trying to wrap my head around where these things came from and how they've evolved into what we see being taught today... and WHY some of this is still being taught despite some concerns... .

Sherri, I'll drop you a line later today/tonight when I'm not at work.

Thank again,

December 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

jw writes:
I'm not sure I understand whether this was just his belief, or if this is common belief still today in the pilates world. Can anyone clarify that for me?

This is what I will offer:
This was not his belief.

Sherri writes:
"Joseph Pilates idea that “the spine should be flat like a newborn baby.”
Again: This is a complete misquote.

Know the above quote was written in 1945, people spoke differently. Also, English was not Joe's first language. But neither should actually matter.
Cut and paste the above quote in all the right places or get out your book. Hopefully, it will end up reading differently, after the following clarifications:

Flat, or flach in German, describe a surface, or "the back." You can look at a back and it seems flat, but, inside, we know that there are curves from a side-view. Pilates restores the natural curves of the spine!

Straight, or gerade in German, describes a line, or "the spine." A plumbline, from the front or back view, as on an anatomy skeletal chart.
His distinction was between back and spine.
"The back would be flat if the spine were kept as straight as a plumb line,...." is absolutely my aim.

Sorry, rebelred, I waited a whole week, but it had to be said; I don't mean to start a debate and I don't do gurus either, not at all. As for Lolita, my guess would be something was lost in the German, Spanish, English translations....?

I guess people will pick on words or photos, but what purpose is served in trying to find an "argument" against Joe Pilates' work? I will not believe that he meant to make the "spine....flat" as suggested.

To Deborah W--I agree on the flex/extend issue, absolutely.

Hope this helps....

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Great explanation Carole! I think what has been "lost in translation" causes a lot of confusion when trying to discern what Pilates actually intended. Your comments are invaluable.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertepting


I can't help but feel that we're getting into semantics now.

"The back would be flat if the spine were kept as straight as a plumb line,...."

If the spine were kept straight, as in viewing from the front as you mentioned, that doesn't equate to the 'side view' being "flat". It really doesn't suggest anything about the primary/secondary curves at all. It seems to me that this is a bit of a stretch in interpretation. I also don't think that, despite the German translation, he was using the term "flat" to describe the normal and healthy primary and secondary curves.

But beyond semantics, more important and evident to me is the fact that in most any photograph of Joe we see his spine perfectly 'straight' (diminished or absent primary and secondary curves). This speaks to me more than anything else about what he was trying to do. And if this was his intention, which it certainly appears to be, then the exercises he developed were aimed at promoting and achieving this goal.

Therefore, my question is why hasn't this premise been more thoroughly examined and redefined? Which would also mean that the exercises themselves would need revision and re-working to accommodate a new, more accurate and sound premise as well (given that the intention has changed).

Now I understand that not all teachers believe that the spine should be straight and teach/modify accordingly, but the truth remains that I see a lot of teachers who have lost their lumbar lordosis, thoracic kyphosis and cervical lordosis. I can't help but surmise that this is the result of a classical approach to pilates. If the goal of pilates is to "restore the natural curves of the spine" then why do I see so much of the opposite to be the case? And why are so many of the exercises done in spinal flexion?

I do see Sherri's point about doing Teaser in lumbar flexion to reduce shear forces imposed on the lumbars from the psoas. At the same time flexion during straight leg lift type of exercises has also been shown to exert significant compression, despite lowering the shearing. Shearing remains present, although higher up at T12/L1 segments from the more lateral fibers of the psoas. But all in all, I think her line of reasoning is sound and well considered. And as she alluded, it will vary from person to person.

One last note, I'm not sure about the reasoning as to why the extensions were somewhat removed... I can't see extension being contraindicated any more than flexion, given the known consequences of spinal flexion with load and the loss of the natural curve. It may just be me, but this seems unlikely.


January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Thanks, tepting.
jw, good points, I will try again to clarify for you.

jw:"I also don't think that, despite the German translation, he was using the term "flat" to describe the normal and healthy primary and secondary curves."

Read the ENTIRE quote again, and try to understand that by saying the "back...flat", he is looking at the "general surface of the whole back, which means to imply NOT "round, stooped shoulders, and protruding abdomens" in the context of the whole paragraph. Again, I choose to believe that he knew that the spine had natural curves from the side that needed to be kept moveable, not "flattened." The exercises address all movements of the spine.

As for photos, a "flat" back is not void of natural curves!!! His photos sometimes show what I would call an exaggerated dynamic perhaps....

The way I teach pilates is to restore the natural curves of the spine. Yes, there are misinterpretations. Hopefully some will be clarified on the AASI online blog.

jw: "Now I understand that not all teachers believe that the spine should be straight and teach/modify accordingly,"

Whoever wouldn't agree to the spine being straight from the front and back views, as I suggested, is misguided.

jw:"...but the truth remains that I see a lot of teachers who have lost their lumbar lordosis, thoracic kyphosis and cervical lordosis."

If you want to mince words, "lordosis" and "kyphosis" are extremes. I think you mean "have lost their natural curves"...?

Yes, I agree; the exercises are not always being performed or taught(from all perspectives, classical or otherwise) properly. I also see yoga teachers, and chiropractors, exercisers, construction workers, and dancers, etc with the "wrong" ideas (but I don't like to label it that). No need to "redefine" or make wrong; I take an approach that simply clarifies.

However, it is also true that many teachers(from all perspectives, classical or otherwise) do teach properly. The movement concept TRANSFER OF WEIGHT, is very helpful when trying to understand how to perform pilates moves. There are other concepts as well that help to keep the movements WHOLE BODY instead of modifying to the point of losing the integrity of the method.

Awareness does need to be brought to these issues. Let's do it in a way that honors Joe with gratitude for his work and the conversation he brought to fore. Let's do it in a way that honors the personal path of the individual and what he/she needs to learn; this goes for teachers and students. It's time. Pilate-pro is a great forum.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend


Thanks. I think I'm clear on what you stated originally.

I still don't see how we can translate the word "flat" to mean maintaining the primary and secondary natural curves. But maybe that's my own shortcoming.

"Flat, or flach in German, describe a surface, or "the back." You can look at a back and it seems flat, but, inside, we know that there are curves from a side-view."

This is the paragraph in its entirety. If we look at a back that appears flat, it more than likely is flat as far as the curvatures go. If we look at a back that is curved, it is curved as far as the curvatures go. To have healthy primary/secondary curves does not mean someone will have stooped shoulder or a hyperkyphosis... . We're looking to maintain, in most cases, a back that both appears curved and consequently is actually curved softly. We don't read backs by the musculature, but instead by the skeletal position. A back with healthy mild curves will in fact appear curved from the side, NOT "FLAT".

I think that we're all entitled to 'believe' what we like regarding interpretation of his phrasing and intentions, so I respect your interpretation. Maybe it's best left at that since we can't seem to address the fact that his back, and actual spine, is flat in many of his photos... even while standing or helping someone with a movement. Not to mention his pelvis is significantly tilted posterior.. which typically follows suit with natural lumbar/sacral spinal mechanics in lumbar flexion state.

"As for photos, a "flat" back is not void of natural curves!!! His photos sometimes show what I would call an exaggerated dynamic perhaps...."

So what would we then call a back/spine that is ACTUALLY "flat","straight" or "void of natural curves"? This seems like semantics to me.. .? While maintaining reverence to Joe, there's no denying his spine is flat, straight and void of natural curves!

"Whoever wouldn't agree to the spine being straight from the front and back views, as I suggested, is misguided."

I really don't want to get into a petty discussion on semantics.... I was clearly referring to the position of the PRIMARY/SECONDARY curves being diminished or absent, not the frontal view. And "lordosis" and "kyphosis" are NOT EXTREME terms for spinal positioning. Maybe a PT here on the forum could chime in to re-confirm that fact. The 'normal' moderate extension in the lumbar and cervical spine is referred to as lordosis, and the normal moderate flexion of the thoracic is known as kyphosis. When they are exaggerated it is termed "HYPER-lordosis/HYPER-kyphosis", when diminished it is termed "HYPO-"... . I'm not "mincing" words here, just using accepted terminology common to many disciplines. This would be another good example of the benefit of the standardization goals of the PMA to promote the use of a common language so that pilates teachers could effectively and accurately communicate across disciplines. But if teachers are being taught the misconception that lordosis and kyphosis are "extremes" and undesirable, then that would explain a lot to me... .

I too agree we see this in many other disciplines (I call it 'yoga back' due to the predominance of this same tendency in yoga teachers/practitioners... of which I have been as well so I'm not knocking yoga here.)

I realize, as I mentioned in previous posts, that there is a widespread difference in how this stuff is taught. I'm not labeling anything right or wrong, but I am questioning the intention Joe had when developing the exercises and calling into question its appropriateness, as we know today, and its continued use by some.

I hope that you can establish some clarity on this topic on your own blog, however, I don't see why clarity or communication cannot happen here as well... on a blog that is open to anyone regardless of identity or pre-approval.

I realize based on what you've said that you teach to maintain a 'neutral/natural' spine. And I also don't argue that Joe taught movements in all directions. But as evident by the predominant flexion in his exercises as a whole, and by his own spine/pelvic position, it appears obvious to me that he encouraged a posterior tilt of the pelvis and true 'flattening' of the spine as his idea of "neutral"... standing, moving or dynamically otherwise. Ultimately, when Joe is pictured casually standing or moving about, his spine does NOT contain the natural curves intended and his pelvis is posterior... I guess I'll have to draw my own conclusions from that.


January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

I think I'm through conversing with you, jw, on this forum.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Just finished reading jw's post in full:
"I hope that you can establish some clarity on this topic on your own blog, however, I don't see why clarity or communication cannot happen here as well... on a blog that is open to anyone regardless of identity or pre-approval."

Please note my last comment on the PMA Certification Exam posted days ago. The AASI Online blog will be public and you CAN retain your anonymity, and I am so thankful for Pilates-pro.com.
Anyone wishing to view my final statements regarding the PMA before the AASI conversation begins, please visit http://aasicontributions.blogspot.com. Everyone is invited to take part in the small test group (up to 100 people) before the main site http://aimacademysi.blogspot.com goes public in a few weeks. If interested, please email me at info@aim-academy.org.

LA, we could use some "lightening up" here. I am reminded of Ace Ventura and "LACES OUT" "LACES OUT"!!! (funny movie!!) I was walking my dogs getting a giggle from "BACK Flat, SPINE Straight" "Back Flat, Spine straight"!!! (J.H.'s whole ORIGINAL paragraph)

I am non-pathologically focused, meaning, I look for the good. It does not serve me to enter into pathologically-focused conversations, with a clear intent to make someone wrong.

No one gets everything wrong 100% of the time. And most of us, are doing just fine.

Have a good day everyone.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

I originally was the one quoted about the
differences between yoga and Pilates in
Pilates Style Winter 2005, and taught a
class at Inner Idea three years ago called
"Pilates is not Yoga, there is no Yogalates."
so I"m glad the subject is being brought up
again four years later.As someone who became
a yoga teacher in 1975 and a Pilates teacher
in 1986, it's one of my favorite topics,
and Shari handled it rather well.
I could write alot of comments but I'll keep
it simple. You can take the same photograph
in yoga, Pilates and gymnastics(which Joe based his work on ) and it looks the same,
the question is, "What is the purpose?'
What is the mind doing?" In yoga, your mind is on God, in gymnastics, you are performing
a trick, in Pilates you are working on your
powerhouse." In response to the righteous
nitpicking of his photos, please remember
those photos are done in the 40's and he had another 25 years to evolve his method.
Also each body he treated individually, no one position applies to each. AND, those who
say he walked to the library and took out
books on yoga and zen, there was no Hinduism
in Munchengaldbach, no Zen in Hamburg, until
after WW2. I give a detailed formally researced,thought about for 20 year lecture
in Dallas, Boulder, and Big Bear if you want
to save yourselves years of thinking about it.
Siri Dharma Galliano
certified by Romana and Yogi Bhajan
P.S. Hatha yoga by definition is just postures. the locks and breath techniques are
Raj Yoga.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSiri Dharma Galliano


Sorry to hear that Carole. I enjoyed the dialogues of past, but clearly we're not able to speak to this topic directly, without 'massive loose' interpretations and presumptions based on linguistics and such.

""The back would be flat if the spine were kept as straight as a plumb line,...." is absolutely my aim."

And if the spine were not "straight as a plumb line" the back, as you are referring to, would still be 'flat'. It doesn't matter whether you bend left or right, the back can still remain flat in regards to the backside. It would only cease to be 'flat' if one bent forward or back (primary/secondary curves), and this clearly would not change a vertical, plumb line positioning when viewing from the front. So, let's just see it for what it is and move on... .

"I guess people will pick on words or photos, but what purpose is served in trying to find an "argument" against Joe Pilates' work? I will not believe that he meant to make the "spine....flat" as suggested."

The purpose is not to find an argument against him personally. The purpose is to be sure that what is being taught to the teachers, which in turn gets taught to the general public (some of whom are turning to pilates to 'help' with back problems), is SAFE and SOUND!

So although you "don't do gurus", it sure seems as though you're willing to take his word as the gospel, even if that means interpreting his language to fit your beliefs. You may utilize safe practices and modify the work to todays understanding, but that doesn't mean that Joe was correct in all of his beliefs/assumptions/opinions/ideologies. And there's no harm or irreverence in question some of his initial beliefs and practices.

We're all human, including Joe Pilates. And we all strive to help others live more comfortably in their bodies and with better relationship to themselves and those around them. We all strive to do this for ourselves as well.

It seems to me that we all share a larger goal, but the details upon reaching for that goal differ. That's to be expected and appreciated. But it's these important details that can have a serious effect on ones physical being in the long run and I believe is worth consideration/contemplation. Challenging those beliefs won't stop you from achieving your end goal with people. It won't prevent you from taking your own path, or modifying the work to encompass a broader theme. It won't hinder the 'process' that I know you feel to be so important, as do I. It can only strengthen the integrity of the work.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

..."Non-pathologically focused"... that's understandable and fine. But ignorant bliss is no excuse to allow people to change their bodies in ways that may be detrimental. I'm sorry if you don't see this happening, but I do and it's concerning.

Siri Dharma Galliano,
"In response to the righteous
nitpicking of his photos, please remember
those photos are done in the 40's and he had another 25 years to evolve his method."

Thanks for the passive aggressive remarks... . Analyzing his 'alignment' or 'posture' is hardly nitpicking considering the obvious imbalances. And if the pilates world is going to epitomize joe's posture and alignment as something to strive for then it in fact deserves a look.

Even at the age of 82 he exemplified these characteristics, even more-so.


January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Interesting article, although I work with two Yoga Masters as clients(one Ashtanga & one Iyengar)and they practice Pilates to develop more of the strength they need in order to meet the physical challenges of their yoga practice. To a Master, the yoga practice is intended to open and prepare the body for the long hours of stillnes that is required of them to receive the lessons of the Great Treatise. I don't believe the actual religious purpose of the yoga practice was given enough emphasis.

I have found from experience of working with the Yoga client that they differ from those of the Pilates client. Yoga is more successful in devloping breath and flexibility, but it lacks in developing postural strength particulary for the upper body. Pilates does not replace Yoga, but instead supports and strengthens the body to meet the demands of the practice.

As far as the debate of the flat spine. It is my contention that the curvatures of the spine are caused due to the weight of the body when it comes to an upright position. The body's constant desire to right itself causes the spine to shift creating curves. Depending on how much of a shift the body needs to make to find balance results in the degree of curvature. That is why they vary from person to person.

If the spine was inteded to have a curve, then why does the medical community remove the curve to make the spine more stable? Anyone that has had back surgery or worn a back brace is missing their curves and it doesn't seem to affect the function of the body.

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