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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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Good points on the religious/spiritual elements of yogic practice.

On the spine, I don't necessarily agree with the reasoning/purpose of the curvature development and here's why. The primary and secondary curves, as they're known as, begin to develop when we are only infants, before we begin to crawl or even sit-up in vertical relation to gravity. It starts with babies lifting their heads to look up and arching/extending the lumbars. In order for those extension positions to work properly in a balanced fashion the thoracic spine needs to develop its countering kyphosis.

If we didn't have these alternating curvatures then every step we took would send a jolting shock into the bodies of the vertebrae and discs of the spine... very unhealthy and detrimental consequences. Much like banging the end of a broom stick on the floor, verses banging a spring or similarly curved object that holds the capacity for absorption of energy and recoil.

The often, but not always the case, result of 'flattening' the curves during back surgeries/fusions is in part the ignorance and lack of acknowledgment of the importance of these curves on the part of some surgeons. I know of a few surgeons who do see the value of preserving these curves when possible.

And there is consequence to that flattening following surgery. You will quite often see an eventual degeneration of the discs in adjacent segments as well as soft tissue strain and dysfunction throughout the spine. More globally this has a potentially big impact on the entire body/structure, we just tend to miss the connection in relevance because we're so accustomed to focusing our attention on the site of the surgery.

Often you'll see someone who had a lumbar fusion for one reason or another and the spine was fused in a flattened/flexed position. Later sown the road the same person begins to experience problems with their upper back or neck, or maybe witin their pelvis/legs (knee issues). These 'secondary' problems are in fact related to their new spinal positioning, as it is always necessary for the entire system to relate... All of the 'parts' we intellectual separate in fact work together and depend on proper relationships for optimal balanced function. When one region is offset, another, or several more, will accommodate those changes as best they can until those compensations reach a point of decompensation. Does that make sense?

I've never heard of instances where surgery was performed solely to eliminate someone primary or secondary curve altogether.? Have you? I'm curious what you've experienced with this.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

I'm sorry I am writing about this so late after it was published, but I feel it is my duty to add a few thoughts. I really appreciate the effort that Sherri put into the article. She has done much research and her opinions are informed. As someone who has been doing yoga for over 20 years and who has studied it both as a science and as cultural phenomenom, and as the person who wrote a book regarding the differences and similarities of yoga and pilates, I feel qualified to add my own feelings on the subject. There are some obvious differences in the physical appearances between yoga and pilates and some traditions of each can seem very different indeed. However, yoga as a mental training discipline and pilates as a mental training discipline are both centered on improving awareness. This is key to realizing that they are both incredible systems for training the mind as well as the body. Unlike Siri's flippant idea that yoga is about god and pilates about the powerhouse, most sophisticated practitioners of both will agree that it is increased awareness about how to articulate, breathe, move, stay still, sense, reflect, and grow, etc. that really makes both disciplines wonderful and connected. Descriptions of styles of yoga, like different styles of Pilates lose meaning out of context. Just as Joseph would alter and modify his prescribed exercises depending on the client's needs, the same is true for how Iyengar and other yoga masters would individualize a practice for each student. There really isn't any hard fast rule that you start yoga standing or Pilates lying down. I would hope we have all moved past traditional interpretations and use our minds to create and teach that which we think is best for our students.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and would be happyt to continue the discussion via email or in this post.

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Urla


Surgery to curves, that are commonly referred to as Scoliosis, are performed for the sake of removing the curves in the spine. To me those two curves are no different than the curves we consider to be natural other than that they occur at different places on the spine. If you think about it the cervical and lumbar curves occur at the two weakest points of the upright posture. The weight of the head (12 pounds) has a tendency to pull the head forward which the body responds by bending the spine backward to keep the head balanced on top of the shoulders. The same effect occurs in the lumbar region of the spine as the hips try the balance the weight of the ribcage. Lateral curves or rotations are also the result of weaknesses that just happened to occur for different reasons at different places. The spine has the longest chain of joints which increases its tendency to bend so we just assume it is suppose to have curves. I think we should have been doing more Pilates when we were younger.

The posture of the body is a result of the unconsious muscular responses the body makes to our conscious desires. The Pilates exercises, at least I thought, were developed to encourage the body to develop the strength in the postural muscles to support the weight of the body. The lack of isometric strength in the muscles that run along the bones particulary in the spine is what causes the degree of cuvature.

I agree that the medical community is somewhat misguide in surgically straightening the spine because they eliminate the bones ability to move. Other than that,as long as our muscles can happily move out bodies from point A to point B without falling down I can not see why we need to be so focused on keeping the curves in tact.

In response to the issues with Joe's posture in his photos. Is it possible that maybe Joe's exercises were intended to strengthen the posture instead of needing to be done in perfect posture? I think we need to stop throwing the poor man under the bus every time an exercise doesn't look right in a picture.

Hi Stacey,

Can't say much at the moment, but I would like to respond to your points... Thank you for the conversation.

One quick note, I just want to be clear that I wasn't referring to scoliotic/lateral curvatures... obviously there is clear benefit for some individuals to have corrective fusions for their scoliosis. And in those cases the Drs do the best they can to maintain some type of 'normalcy' in the natural curves, but at that point there really asking for a lot. In fact, many of those scoliotic curvatures cause a reduction or elimination of the primary/secondary curves on their own, before surgery is even performed.

More later... thanks again for being open.

January 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

I wanted to clarify to all that my comment about Drs not being concerned at times about preserving the primary/secondary curves was not meant to suggest they don't recognize the importance of them. Surely they do what they can to preserve proper positioning within the confines of the situation at hand.

Onward, ....Scoliotic/lateral curves are VERY different than the others. The architecture of our spines are not suited to maintain constant/chronic lateral curves. That is partly why scoliosis can be so debilitating and detrimental to numerous structures and systems in the body. And a scoliotic curve can occur anywhere in the spine, and in either direction within those regions (although there are common directional occurrences in males vs females).

The causes can sometimes be from neural deficits, which would cause a "weakness" or imbalance in neuromuscular function left to right. Or vestibular imbalance... etc.. In such cases one could create a case for "strengthening the apparent 'weak'/down-trained muscles... but this doesn't really address the root of the problem. In other forms of ideopathic scoliosis (given that we know why a 'structural' scoliosis exist because we can identify the problem - fused/extra rib, hemi-vertebrae, etc.) the 'cause' is not quite as easy to figure out. There will ALWAYS be differences in strength/weakness in the musculature of an individual with scoliosis due simply to 1) the asymmetry and rotation of the spine. & 2) the spines resistance against gravity within that position to prevent further progression.

Scoliosis is a can of worms with many uncertainties and worthy of a lengthy discussion of its own. ...enough so that it's become a particular interest of mine in my practice. Other considerations for causes may include the less considered viscera within the abdominal, pelvic and thoracic cavities... namely their visceral/parietal membranes and associated suspensory ligaments. The internal shaping of our body has as much to do with musculoskeletal posturing and function as anything else. OK, ...I'll stop there.

Back to the primary/secondary curves... . Any competent PT or spinal expert would confirm that these curves are a normal and healthy part of our human development.

The weight of the head bearing down on a cervical spine with no curve at all would be disastrous, as seen in those who sustain whiplash and are sometimes left with a reverse c-curve or 'true flat' curve in the neck. Imagine putting that 12 pound bowling ball on top of a broom handle and hitting the the other end on the ground. It's not a very forgiving support structure and would soon reveal stress fractures. A curved and segmented pole/device however would act as an absorbent spring, spreading the force amongst the many articulations and the tensegrity of the soft tissues supporting and orienting them.

Eliminating these curves is just not a good idea, as evidenced by numerous research in biomechanics, physical and physiological load transfer studies, etc.. And last but not least as evidenced in the clinical setting which clearly has shown the problems people run into when these curves are absent or disturbed in some way. Our discs will suffer first, along with the soft tissues, followed by the skeletal components. Intervertebral discs don't fair well with constant loading such is the case when we put the spine in flexion as a 'postural permanent'.

Simply put, the spine, by design, is very purposefully meant to have anterior/posterior curves in moderation. There are serious and far-reaching implications when we remove them. Many of which don't show immediately, but over time as a process of degeneration and decompensation.

On Joe, I don't mean or intend to criticize his every move. What I do think is important to observe is his posture in general, not necessarily how he does every exercise. It's more to the point of what the exercise is meant to reinforce, and by his standing, relaxed posture alone, one can see the effect of those exercises... and I don't believe that we should be striving for that 'alignment' in our bodies, or our clients' bodies.


January 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering


I do not know very much about pilates or yoga, but have just started pilates classes recommended to me by my physio. I have a practically zero core strength and a large lumbar lordosis, which used to wake me up in the morning with severe pain. When my physio aligned my back, I could not breath properly and stand in alignment at the same time! Because pilates is hard work, I have only been doing very simple pilates exercises and physio exercises for the past month... I have not experienced any pain at all. When I stop these movements, I am in pain again. There is a benefit to flattening out the spine (if only to ease the pain from the lordosis) and strengthening the core muscles and I believe that whether it be pilates or yoga, there is something for everybodys needs. Thank you all for your informative comments, it is good to read up on a technique which is helping to make me strong again. Regards.

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLydia

Stacey writes: "In response to the issues with Joe's posture in his photos. Is it possible that maybe Joe's exercises were intended to strengthen the posture instead of needing to be done in perfect posture? I think we need to stop throwing the poor man under the bus every time an exercise doesn't look right in a picture."

Thank you for that, Stacey. Absolutely!!

There's a lot I could say about the difference between the terms lordotic (natural) and lordosis (as I see it, the start of an extreme) or movement concepts (for instance, when a spine bends laterally or sideways, it also tends to arch or curl), but I'll just cite one of my favorite books for anyone who's interested in learning more. Functional Kinetics by S. Klein-Vogelbach. You needn't be a Physical “Therapist” to understand it, just interested in being educated about movement.

Rather, what I'd like to say here, is in keeping with how I approach my clients. I look for what's missing, honoring the wholeness of the individual. I am surprised that it has not yet been mentioned that Joe had rickets, among other ailments, in his youth.

Here I could go on about, the difference between structural lumbar kyphosis, usually due to rickets, and functional lumbar kyphosis, found in varying degrees in "flat-backed" bodies, that would never approximate a photo of Adonis or David, but again, that is not my main point. The fact is, that Joe maintained a functional range of movement that, while it does not always look "perfect," was perfect for him. I absolutely aim to teach my clients to “exemplify” the idea that each has a unique way towards finding his/her own perfect alignment.

While I see the "imperfection" that critics just love to argue about, what I would hope that young teachers and novices of the method never forget to remember is Joe's spirit, his zest for life, his ability to stand tall in the face of it all. Never stop learning. While I strive to help people learn about movement and bring their bodies to a place that approximates their most natural curvatures (the place before it tends to rotate, that has the ability to stretch and lift a bit more upward on a plumbline), the joy for me, is to see the dawning on their faces and the smiles brought on that resemble Joe’s.

Wishing you a wonderful journey, Lydia!

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

I know I can always count on a lengthy and anatomically correct response to a post, so thank you JW for your input. I try to avoid the scientific approach as much as possible because for one, most clients could care less. I am basing my observations on the common sense approach and actual results. I know it is hard to let go of the anatomy book, but here's another view on this.

I have had almost every possible case of spinal curvatures labeled Scoliosis walk through my studio door since I started teaching. I had one client born with curvature confining her to a wheelchair. Her spine was already rodded and fused at that point leaving little options for strengthening the muscles other than deepening the strength in her muscles of respiration, legs and arms. Her mother was a neurologist which probably explains why my approach is centered on the CNS.

If you talk to your clients, which I am sure most of you do, you will find that most played sports at an early age. There is also the twin theory where the baby that is on the bottom in the uterus may be weaker due to the weight of the other baby or babies. It still comes down to too much weight being placed on a developing body before it is mature enough to support it.

I feel that the body moves based on balance and just happens to have muscles to make that happen. If you look at one sided sports I guarentee you are going to find a higher concentration of scolisis in girls that participate at a young age than those that wait until they are more developed. It seems to be more prominent in sports that have impact such as tennis and softball.

I think we are medically looking for genetics and I do not believe that is the root of the problem.

JW I am just getting ready to ask for a new set of xrays for one of my clients that I have been working on for almost a year. Visually she looks straight, but you need an x-ray to confirm because the body shifts to compensate. I will keep you posted.

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Redfield-Dreisbach

Pilates is about movement! Give the pictures a second look in this light... see the dynamism, oppositional energies & flow of movement through Joe's body.

Watch the movement of a client. Speak to the load of the spring (imaginary or real) coming into the core & back out unimpeded. Address the flow of energy through the center of the joints. Breathe. Move. Expand. Contract. Curve. Arch.

Efficient, dynamic movement creates optimal dynamic alignment. "Flat" vs. "hyper" becomes a moot point. Joe understood this way ahead of his time. It is our job to cultivate, elevate & respect his powerful work.

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Wallin-Hart

Thanks again. I'm not stuck on the anatomy book though. For me, understanding the body through several means, anatomy being one, is 'common sense' because it's fairly second nature for me to think in those terms/visuals. I think understanding anatomy/physiology allows us to be more precise & effective in what we're doing... it doesn't mean we're working with individual parts without a context for the whole, we just understand more of what can be contributing to or effecting the whole.

The sport of major concern is actually gymnastics. Several studies have found a remarkable increase in occurrence of scoliosis who were gymnasts... up to a 10 fold increase. It has little to do with strength therefore, in my opinion, because they obviously don't lack that as athletes. It seems to have more to do with chronic compression injury/strain to the spine, including the intervertebral discs and endplates. Repeated micro-injury to these structures could certainly begin a unilateral bend in the spine. Or possibly the strong rotations/twisting is causing the same to occur... Considering that they usually have one particular direction they 'prefer' to turn, and given scoliosis is not just a lateral bend of the spine, but just as much a rotational issue (of the whole body). And all sidebending is coupled with rotation of the segments. You can't have one without the other, either type I or II motion.

I think the 'root' of the problem is MANY! Some will be discovered/found and some will not. I don't think the position of the fetus underneath the other has any bearing whatsoever on strength though. I can't think of any evidence or reason that would even suggest it. But who knows, anything is possible... . You also have to consider that someone with a structural leg length discrepancy will have a laterally tilted pelvis, which in turn sidebends the sacrum, which send the lumbar spine up at an angle.... where we then point our finger and say 'Look, a scoliosis'. It is often more than just a condition of the back.... and in that particular example, it has nothing to do with weakness in the musculature... nor do most in my experience.


January 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering


I'm sorry, but I'm not one to couch ignorance (lack of understanding/knowing) in poetic metaphors and imagery. If we don't know what the exercises and alignement is doing to our client's body, then we have no business 'changing' their body.

"Flat vs. hyper becomes a moot point"???? Oh my goodness! Talk about a need for regulation.


January 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering


"There's a lot I could say about the difference between the terms lordotic (natural) and lordosis (as I see it, the start of an extreme)..."

'Lordotic' and 'lordosis' are the SAME THING. The former is an adjective, and the latter a noun, period. You're creative interpretation of the terms to suit your argument and terminology preference is only confusing to those learning. Common language would be helpful, despite some of its 'scientific/anatomic' roots. They're just words after all.

I agree with your unique and individualized approach to working with people, I too take that approach. But it is important to understand when a pattern we see presented is serving a functional purpose, why it's there, should it be changed? how is/will it effect the anatomy? Is it healthy and optimal for the integrity of the whole system over the long-run, or are we contributing to long-term problems by being overly 'accepting' of ones own "perfect alignemnt". ...Especially when that 'perfect alignment' consists of a strong and forced posterior pelvic tilt and a subsequent diminishment or removal of the lordotic and kyphotic curves... That's not being "nitpicky", that's just a matter of education and awareness... the pattern is very obvious so we're not talking about 'finer details' here, we're talking about gross malpositioning of the body. And just because everyone is in their own unique place on the spectrum, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't be mindful and educated about the effects of those various positions.

I can't help but feel that since nobody is able to discuss this issue head-on with an actual understanding of it, I'm just spinning my wheels here. I don't mean at all for that to sound condescending. What I mean is that it just sounds to me that arguments are being made to support Joe 'at all costs', regardless of whether anyone understands, or cares to objectively view his work... . And as much as some of you may be averse to the 'scientific' approach, there is value in the process of developing a hypothesis followed by testing of that hypothesis. It seems the cart is being put before the horse here, and any angle will be taken to support Joe's approach/methods from almost a century ago. He is NOT beyond REPROACH! None of us are!

And in the end, it's the public/students/clients that get the short end of the stick when they find out years down the road that all the 'flattening' of the low back has contributed to their collapsed, herniated or dessicated disc(s). Or they come to people like me for help, or a PT, or a chiropractor with chronic SI joint pain 'despite' the years of pilates they've done. Then they want it "fixed" but they won't question how pilates may be contributing to strain around the lumbopelvic region.... It's a vicious and unnecessary cycle... And they have no idea. It frustrates, saddens and disappoints me.

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Hmmm...I can see the hook and the worm...but, nah, I'm not hungry enough.

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend


Sorry to have played a role in souring your well constructed and thoughtful article on Yoga & Pilates. I'm partly responsible, if not primarily, for steering this one off topic.

It seems like the best thing for me to do at this point is move on and focus this time more constructively around my own work/practice. I gather that there are still some 'political' struggles happening within this profession, and that's neither here nor there as it concerns me. I have seen the results of such 'political' battles in my profession beginning a few decades ago. And it has taken 30+ years to finally deconstruct those walls and unite, and we're in a much better place now for having done it. And we have preserved the diversity amongst the various schools of thought within it.

I hope the Pilates community can someday unite and find a common umbrella under which to stand and represent the basic tenants of the work. After reading PMA's mission statement, it sounds like such an organization already exists. But if others are not willing to creatively diverge their work from that common ground, then it sounds as though the general public is in for greater confusion about what pilates actually is.

I think the work that Carole is doing, what little specific knowledge I have of it, sounds wonderful and refreshing. But in the end, it stems from the same root, the same tree that any other divergent and evolved form of pilates stems from. One thing we can say about it is: While pilates could certainly be utilized within the development of a somatic practice, Pilates itself, as it was founded, is not purely somatics. So it makes sense to me to start with the premise that pilates is a form of exercise combining the mind and body (as if they were separate to begin with???) to develop control, strength, etc... or whatever the definition was originally intended to be. And then allow the creative and evolutionary branches to reach out from there, showing the diversity and scope of application that so many of you talk about.

Good luck to you all and I hope that each of find a group/organization that supports your work, encourages growth and evolution and propels your profession as a whole well into the future.


p.s.- Carole, I refrained from mentioning Joe's Rickets as to not get too personal about the work. But it is important to understand that he developed this work first and foremost for himself, partly to address the muscular instability brought on by his condition. Thus the purpose of "Contrology" served Joseph Pilates well, but most people do not suffer from such problems and don't require such thoughtful, deliberate & conscious 'control' of their bodies. It works quite well autonomically for many, many individuals and professional athletes alike. (Who all demonstrate the preserved healthy primary & secondary curves in their spines, yet don't seem to have any issues or short-comings when it comes to performance ability or self-expression & connection.)

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

I see a pattern, aikido comes to mind...sometimes the opponent hits the wall.

jw:"I refrained from mentioning Joe's Rickets as to not get too personal about the work."

It's tough to un-ring a bell once rung. jw was quite exclamatory in his remarks, and, frankly, I find his attempt to excuse himself from ringing his truth so loudly quite lame.

jw:"But it is important to understand that he developed this work first and foremost for himself...."

...like every other major mover in the field of somatic integration who worked first to address their own issues, Ida Rolf and yogis included? yeah.... Joe's work addressed many different styles/dynamics of movement and ailments, as evidenced from the many approaches in play today, which work mostly to serve not harm.

Since jw has continually dissed me and others, while adding the formulaic adverb "respectfully" to end his posts, I offer the following as a means to more productive conversation:
On the use of the word "But": Consider the use of the word "and" in its stead. One professional to another, I feel it my right to lightly push back here and say: Hmmm...maybe that's how the term "but-head" came about....

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

"Joe's work addressed many different styles/dynamics of movement and ailments, as evidenced from the many approaches in play today, which work mostly to serve not harm."

This is the essence of the questions & concerns that I have been inquiring about. 'AND' nobody seems to want to discuss it in a meaningful or productive way.

"Since jw has continually dissed me and others,"

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, I have not participated in the mud slinging and name calling. My questions are direct and straightforward. My comments have reflected MY OPINIONS, without insult to you personally. I may be looking for responses with more substantive thought rather than poetic discourse or acrobatic linguistics, HOWEVER (sorry, "and" doesn't quite fit the context here) I have NOT taken this to a personal or unprofessional level. I'm simply digging for some substance behind the theory.

In the meantime, I had been offering my take on the PMA as an unbiased observer. Neither for or against the individual actions of the group because I don't know enough about those specific situations. What I can speak to is the need and value for such organizations. AND the need for its members to speak up and voice concerns when they arise. A little dialogue could go a long way at building and maintaining the type of organization you'd ALL like to see. You'll never agree on everything... BUT, what organization satisfies ALL the needs of ALL its members?

I've made no attempt to 'silence' my rings. BUT if I keep asking the same questions over and over and continue to get the same elusive responses... Why continue to ask? What's wrong with saying 'Thanks, but this isn't going anywhere. Good luck with things'?

January 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

To jw:
jw: "This is the essence of the questions & concerns that I have been inquiring about. 'AND' nobody seems to want to discuss it in a meaningful or productive way."

ah...yes, I do understand your frustration. I have found few venues willing to take on ideas about dynamics and do so in a way that is productive and community building. It requires a non-competitive viewpoint. I still offer free gatherings, and one might think that people would jump on it. Not so. I have offered the ideas to nearly every major pilates certifier at one time or another, since 1995. Everyone has their agendas, and to be fair, simply their own work to do. There are many facets to pilates.

Then again, many here have tried to provide meaningful discussion with you.

From jw's 12/26/08 post on the Low-Flexion Deep Abs article: "I don't necessarily see why the super-imposition was put on pilates given that most teachers would not have the education, scope or understanding to recognize when the TA would need to be focused on in such an isolative manner..."
I ask, does this invite conversation in any way?
Also, more than several times, you have been accusatory in your remarks by using phrases such as "passive-aggressive" just for starters. These words do not suggest simple inquiry. Is it elitism or just a lack of skill? Either way, it would require defensive action from those to whom you pose the "questions" (and that is exhausting) or it asks teachers to place "blame" on other vantage points (and that only serves to further split the community).

I believe in a reciprocal environment. We all have our gifts.

AASI is an organization that has facilitative procedures for communicating across disciplines, that are based on the body-based (not business-based) model, AIM, that emerged from pilates practice. Its benefits are unity/common ground.

btw, I invited you, jw, to the AASI conversation in my 10/24/08 post under lighten-up. I guess you prefer anonymity; oh well...

My viewpoint is experientially, scientifically (biomechanics, physics, etc), and phenomenologically based in the creative process, and I know that MANY teachers out there also work in this way. Conversation is good; an "embodied conversation" brings in the physical experience. If you truly desire to find out more, just seek and ye shall find. Also, it's helpful to contemplate the idea of beginner's mind and reciprocal learning. Or, for another example, the dynamic approaches of Trager vs, Rolfing (in a broad sense, of course).


January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

My point was whether or not it was appropriate to isolate the TA at the expense of inhibiting the obliques. And Michele Olson was gracious enough to respond and have an intelligent conversation about it.

And if someone is couching their 'neutral' response in passive-aggressive under-tones, what's wrong with stating it as such? That's not an insult or attack, just an observation that anyone could make. It is what it is.

Beginner's mind, I agree... and having a basis of understanding for what we're doing is also important. Every discipline has it's unique benefits and limitations alike. As well as its own unique intention and effect. Comparing apples and oranges only reveals the likeness of them being fruits. However the details and such show their distinct mechanisms of effect. And often what we thought about the 'oranges' and 'apples' prove to be different after more thorough understanding and scrutiny.

January 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

JW - Just an observation: I felt both insulted & attacked by your personally addressed response to my opinion & redirection of the conversation. This did not make me want to engage with you any further. What a shame to turn off rich sources of information (that contrary to your short-sighted observation)may have a lot to offer.

January 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Wallin-Hart

I posted a response on the AASI Contributions Blog and had trouble directing it to the right place. Help please..Pilates-pro..:)

Please go to http://aasicontributions.blogspot.com for my comment.

January 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend


Frankly, I wasn't interested in a re-direct of the conversation before addressing the initial topic at hand. All of the points you mentioned in your first post are important to me as well, but that's not what my concerns are about.

You're ultimate conclusion that the end result of the exercises is a "moot point" was disturbing to me, to be perfectly honest. If we don't understand the net effect of what we're doing with people, or don't care to, then we probably shouldn't be doing it. I'm sorry if you don't like me for saying so.

Sure, we could have a rich and delightful conversation about the fluidity and dynamics of movement, etc.... . And I would enjoy it and surely learn something from the process. I'm always learning and hope, as well as expect, that I will continue to do so for the remainder of my career/life. So don't judge my understanding or willingness to engage in 'other' topics of dialogue.


As a practitioner I see many people who have been led to believe by their pilates teacher and the media, that these end-goals are in fact desirable. Yet they stand in front of me in my office complaining of this chronic pain or the other, and refuse to consider that maybe certain aspects of pilates are contributing to or causing the problem. Especially when they tell me that the month or so they took off from practicing their pain went away or diminished... yet still think that it's due to 'something else' because "pilates can't possibly be the problem".

I do what I do to help people the best that I can in that moment. We all share the same intention to some degree. So for the sake of the safety and health of people who come to pilates, is it possible for a discussion to happen around these topics in a critical, objective and honest fashion? I enjoy a challenge for the sake of growth and understanding. Everything is worth at least a second look. And I even constantly question the work I currently am doing... even if the results appear to be successful.

There has to be more depth and reasoning to the exercises being taught in pilates beyond "Joe said so" or "movement is dynamic.... so it doesn't matter where it leaves us afterward.".

The more I participate in this endless exchange to nowhere, the more I see the desperate need for regulation and standardization. Why is it so hard to talk about these points like grown adults and professionals alike without changing the topic or steering away from the finer details?

January 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

My opinions to your questions in bold:
1. NO, NO, NO!!!!
2. Many reasons, and I'll be happy to answer when I have more time...
3. That's a "loaded" question. His ideology is obviously being interpreted in a variety of ways. And, Practitioners have their own vantage points of how to deal their interpretations...my short answer to the question of why this is so hard to talk about(btw you also asked that one in a very loaded way, which makes it hard to begin with!). And--I know it can be done.
More later on AASI Contributions.

January 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

To get this conversation slightly back on topic. . .

Yesterday, I took a Bikram Yoga class because a friend of mine asked me to go with her. The short answer to what I thought of it is: I hated it. Couldn't stand the heat, 30 people in the room, the "just do it" mentality, and I woke up today with a sore back. Yet, it's very popular because, I suppose, people think they're getting a workout. Where's the research? The scientific studies? I don't know much about yoga and I'm sure other forms would be more to my liking but I don't think I'll be going back to Bikram. In comparison, Pilates seemed so much "safer" and "functional."

I've had the privilege and honor to study under three "elders": Romana, Kathy Grant, and Jay Grimes. Not one of them tried to erase the natural curves of my spine. They didn't use the term but what they were aiming for is what we would call "neutral." That's what I aim for in my teaching too. I don't want people to "flatten" their spines but I don't want to force "neutral" too quickly either. I once had the misfortune to go to a teacher who tried to get me into what she thought was "neutral" and I came out of her place with a bad back!

But I can see how some of your clients, JW, are getting hurt in Pilates. I see Pilates being taught in large groups. There's little to no individual attention. How can a teacher monitor 12 people and give them feedback as they need it?

January 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

Just wondering if some of you guys confuse the back and the spine. How do you , when evaluating, tell if someone's spine is "flat/straight" or "curved"? Because when you look at someone's back, YOU DO NOT SEE THE SPINE. In order to see the spine, you would need X-Rays. I am in nurse in the OR, and believe me, I see curved spines including highly lordotic lumbar spines on X-Rays underneath absolutely straight backs. Remember that there are up to several inches of tissue layer before you get to the actual spine.
Question to Sherry: In your article, why do you say JP evolved his method starting in 1925? It seems he had already trained people before he started a new life in the U.S....Another food for thought: Nobody (except me - please let me know if there is anyone else working on this topic) ever seems to consider what background JP evolved from in Germany. He was neither the first, nor the only person doing passionate research on human physical movement. There was a LOT going on in Germany at that time...and I agree with Siri that it was not yoga...

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOriane

To Dropshot: How interesting that you once experienced a bad back due to working in what was supposedly "neutral". I myself did my instructor training program with a system employing classical Pilates, but with "neutral" spine. During a private class with someone trained by that system, I suffered severe disabling injury doing Roll Up on the mat- I had bilateral sciatica shooting into my feet for months. Another former trainee friend of mine noticed she always had back pain after private class with a teacher trained a big brand name in Pilates, who also use a classical approach, but with neutral spine. She ended up with a herniated disk (of course, other factors will have contributed to this,over time). She and me have drastically different alignments, so that is not the reason for our experience. I am beginning to wonder if classical Pilates and neutral spine are incompatible....also, as I understand, the method does not teach an end goal such as "flat" spine, but a healthy spine that conserves its range of mobility throughout our life. Personally, after completing my training program, I had the courage to try classes with Romana-trained people. As a result, my back is strong and happy now, which I need for my physically challenging job in the OR.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOriane

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