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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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I understand what you're saying, there is often quite a bit of soft tissue/muscle in the lamina, particularly in the lumbar region. However the spinous processes are still easily palpable to indicate anterior/posterior positioning. I think you're right that confusion could arise for some. Yet a sensitive and informed touch and visual assessment can easily sort through those otherwise deceptive appearances. Also consideration of pelvic positioning can be helpful in most cases, but not all, in determining where the lumbars are positioned. I think simply knowing ones anatomy can go a long way in helping us understand what we're seeing, and what we can expect to see in certain areas (such as that depth of erector and lamina tissues you spoke of).

Flexion and extension motion testing will also help clarify things further by defining what one might believe to be bone, but is actually muscle, or vice versa.

But you're right Oriane, we shouldn't be assessing these curvatures via the contours of the soft tissues... but by the bones themselves. Just as we shouldn't correct or assess posture by the position of ones shoulders per say, but by the position of the ribcage and thoracic spine that the shoulders are meant to rest neutrally on.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering


Do you see the tendency for a 'flattening' of the spine in pilates teachers and devotees?

Not to assume that is the conscious intention... (afterall, that is what I'm trying to figure out here). But it is clear that Joe's spine was very straight. And close examination of the exercises show a clear dominance towards this as well. And after working in a well-known, busy pilates studio and having several friends and colleagues who practice or teach pilates, I can't help but notice the 'tendencies' toward the same.

To clarify, I'm not suggesting that all of the exercises should be done with a lordotic curve in the lumbar spine. More to my point is the dominant tendency for this positioning overall, and the 'drawing in' or 'hollowing' of the abdomen while drawing the spine 'flat' as a major preparation prior to movement. Consequently encouraging neuromuscular coordination in this position during movement. Which ultimately can lead to postural programming when standing/moving in everyday life.


I think you're right about the 'class effect'. It's no place to be managing individual situations. However, these people are generally folks who take private classes, and even the group classes are limited to about 4-6 students. The same is true in yoga and any other form of group exercise classes though. As I understand it, yoga was originally intended and used on a one on one basis, not group practice. I've heard similar effects that you described from others who 'crossed disciplines', both ways. (I'm not a big fan of Bikram yoga to begin with though... recipe for injury.) Bear in mind though that the range of motion and movement is often quite a bit more dynamic and less linear than a lot of pilates. So it will be a given that one would feel 'soar' and achy following a rapid switch in normal activity/exercise. Our bodies are strong within the ranges we move them in. Changing that range should be done slowly and conservatively as to not injure or strain something until we build strength and coordination within that range.

There are many other variables that can go into this type of scenario too. One being that if we work hard in plates to isolate and restrict articulation of the lumbopelvic region for 'stability' sake then proceed to engage in movements akin to yoga , let's say, where articulation and movement of those segments is generally greater, we might become vulnerable to injury if not careful. It's a process in both disciplines of working gradually to safely accommodate new movements and coordinative patterns of strength and articulation.

I practiced both yoga and pilates over the years and can say from my own experience that the yoga was very safe for me personally, despite seeing others get hurt in classes, or doing things that could injure them. There will always be teachers that aren't as qualified , knowledgeable or safety minded as others. It's also up to us as students to respect our limitations and practice mindfully. Too many people push themselves too hard... . I never sustained an injury in yoga in 12 years of practice. Although I certainly could have if I didn't practice as I did. The same is true for my pilates experience, although I found more of the supposed 'correct' cues and positionings to be more uncomfortable in my body as a whole at times. I also began to develop an excessive lordosis in my low back with mild discomfort from all of the strong emphasis on hip flexion. So I modify to what I feel safe and comfortable with.

Maybe I'm not articulating my thoughts, questions or concerns on this very well... . It's probably best for the health of this forum to draw conclusions on my own.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

justwondering: No, I have not observed neither teachers nor clients with flattening spines. On the contrary, in my environment, I observe more excessive lumbar lordosis, especially in the teachers I saw during my training program.You mention the neuromuscular programming when cued to straighten the spine might lead to repercussions in everyday posture.... One of the classically teachers I took a workshop with insisted that while we might take a certain position during exercise, we were not supposed to walk around like that when upright.
Due to my high dissatisfaction with my teacher training program (too many unanswered questions regarding biomechanics and anatomy), I participate in ongoing education with a leading-edge institute based in Zurich, Switzerland. They teach and research anatomy applied to movement, examining the human strucures closely to derive optimal function and use. So of course I am aware of the necessity to maintain spine curves, especially when upright, while these curves will be more or less pronounced according to the load. Nevertheless, in my personal Pilates practice I now strictly follow Romana / Fiasca / Grimes teaching, as it is remarkedly efficient,and at the same time the only way to protect my lower back. I feel somewhat as an outsider with this big split between new research, and the proven value of tradition. But for now, I see no other choice than feeling at home, and study more, in both of these seemingly opposing worlds. As to JP's straight spine aspect: it may be the result of his work, OR his natural form, since no two spines are alike. Definetely, this is a challenging, rewarding field that we have to discuss and study in depth. Hopefully, there will be some interesting and serious scientific research on the subject. Till then, thanks to Sherri for involuntarily opening this can of worms, (or, wasps...?)

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOriane


IF NOT, WHY DO WE SEE SO MANY PILATES TEACHERS AND STUDENTS ALIKE WITH SUCH A POSTURE, AND COINCIDENTALLY A FREQUENT OCCURRENCE AMONG THEM OF LUMBOPELVIC PAIN, SI JOINT DYSFUNCTION, ANTERIOR HIP PAIN/STRAIN, UPPER BACK AND NECK PROBLEMS? I just don’t see that. I’ve been teaching for over ten years and not one of the people I’ve taught, to my knowledge, has developed the problems you speak of.

IS SOME OF THE METHODOLOGY AND IDEOLOGY PUT FORTH BY JOSEPH PILATES BEING RE-EXAMINED FOR APPROPRIATENESS AND SAFETY CONCERNS, SUCH AS THESE? I believe so. Many training schools promote “neutral pelvis” as the ideal place from which to perform Pilates exercises. What is neutral pelvis? The textbook answer is the ASIS and pubis in the same coronal plane. But, as I’ve said, getting to that ideal too quickly can cause strain and/or injuries. Pilates should not feel unnatural. If you’re excessively tucking or arching, you will know and feel it. This is not good. Pilates should feel natural.

My advice: Don’t overthink it. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I do think that one can get into “analysis-paralysis.” If I worried about every little thing my body was doing, I wouldn’t play tennis, or garden, or dance.

Oriane -- Romana didn’t have me flatten my back out. She just told me to pull in my powerhouse and got me moving. No big secrets, no scrutinizing -- and it all felt wonderful.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

Great comment, dropshot...

Hi Oriane,
I believe we are on the same page. (As an aside, I am of German descent and am aware of what you asked earlier)
However, just so that I am clear:
"One of the classically teachers I took a workshop with insisted that while we might take a certain position during exercise, we were not supposed to walk around like that when upright."
...and you are saying that is not correct?

If so, I have something to offer, and I will do so after a response later on today. (I might add that I would be speaking for a group of individuals, not just myself--who agree on this) It will speak specifically to some of the "finer points" that jw has been asking about.


January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

To everyone,

I post this as an aside...and may seem off topic, but I do not wish to be misunderstood.

***...I ask Oriane above, as I believe that this post has spawned a discussion that dovetails several issues, that point to the crux of our dilemma in the pilates community.***

To jw:
You are not to blame, but to credit, for the steering of this discussion (with all its worms and wasps), though not all the credit goes to you. I actually emailed Sherri to tell her she had misquoted J.H.Pilates (although she didn't mention that I had done so), thus….

I waited a week to see what others would write in response, or to get a call from Sherri, before I posted on "Back- flat", "spine-straight." I believe now that I am viewed in the PMA as someone against their efforts, because I do not wish to take a test that only speaks to what I may know about pilates. I choose to wait until there is a test that reflects a client-centered pedagogy that I have been working on for years. This, in my view, is more in line with the shift in paradigm, that Pilates and many others should be credited with bringing into view.

I am praying for an understanding to come together here between teachers and their networks. Anyone interested in this, please visit and stay tuned to my blog. The understanding can't and shouldn't perhaps come all at once, but we need to begin....

There is a gap, and it can be filled. I hope the specific answer to Oriane can be of help. It comes from a concerted effort, not just my view. I am just crazy (and passionate) enough to put myself on the front lines.
-Carole Amend

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

"Pilates should not feel unnatural. If you’re excessively tucking or arching, you will know and feel it. This is not good. Pilates should feel natural."

I'm fairly well connected to my kinesthetic senses... I'm not one to do things excessively, so that's not really the issue for me.

To me, the idea and practice of keeping ones pelvis and lumbar region (the supposed powerhouse) stationary/fixed/"stabilized" while performing movements of the legs or such is just not 'natural' in general. The pelvis was meant to articulate with the sacrum, the sacrum with the lumbars and the lumbar segments amongst one another, on up.... .Walking or running is a good example of these inherent and necessary motions. When we try to move our leg without moving the pelvis or low back (keeping the "core" engaged and rather rigid) it prevents the full and complete chains of movement to travel upward into the rest of the body. Meaning that significant strain accumulates at the hip, overworking and de-patterning proper or healthy movement function and coordination. Not to mention all of the excessive activation & increased tonicity of the abdominals/paraspinals in effort to resist these otherwise natural motions. I guess I'm unclear on why we would want this 'disassociation', as I've heard it called. It certainly feels 'unnatural' to me, as I would never walk with my legs moving in isolation from my pelvis, spine or ribcage.

I notice that when this occurs in the legs relative to the pelvis it gives the appearance of walking like a toy soldier, usually with an accompanying 'thump, thump' as the heels hit the floor. Reflective of the lack of energy absorption up through the lumbopelvic/spine. Just an observation.... .

I see its purpose and usefulness for dancers and such who require that type of control in their work. But the 'average' person, or even that dancer when off the stage, wouldn't benefit from this type of patterning and diassociation. The pelvic innominates need to articulate in their oscillating fashion. It loads and unloads the SI joints alternately and on up through the spine and torso through rotational/counter-rotational forces.

In any event, I can't necessarily agree that some of these movements are natural or 'should' be natural. Maybe I'm just inclined to engage in more organic and fluid forms of movement verses very controlled and linear movement... Chalk it up to personal preference I suppose.

p.s.- Carole, don't worry, I'm not looking for any credit whatsoever, otherwise I'd be using my name more than likely. I just want to see some critical thought put into some aspects of this work, as it's all too easy to accept for the sake of tradition.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

JW -- I do admit that I have known some teachers (some of whom are well-known and respected) who call for a posterior pelvic tilt. I never really understood why -- I certainly never learned to teach people that way. Perhaps it's a misconception on the part of these teachers.

Who were your Pilates teachers? Of what school of thought? The exercises should not be causing you pain or discomfort.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

Thanks for the response...

It's doesn't cause me pain to do them, it's more having to do with the strong activation and development of the hip flexors that ends up putting a heavier anterior draw on my pelvis, thus shortening up the posterior lumbar region. It's uncomfortable due to this shortening in the low back and such... which then manifests in general, not necessarily during pilates. But it's not an issue in my body to start, only after doing the work for some time.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Can you give an example of an exercise in which this happens? I see this happen sometimes to people when they do the 100s and I understand how this can cause discomfort. The hip flexors should not be gripping or activating so much.

I do not have the answers to all your questions but I'm glad you're asking them. I do not "get out" much so do not often have the opportunities to have such conversations with people. I suppose I can speak from my own experience. Many years ago I danced and suffered from horrible back pain. My "natural" tendency in the pelvis is an anterior tilt. Anytime my leg moved behind me, there went my back and I'd be out of commission. I went to Pilates and learned to "stabilize" my pelvis while moving my leg. This did not happen overnight but after many sessions. The back pain went away and never returned (well, it did return a bit after that Bikram yoga class!)

I am not a scientist; I am not a therapist; and I have not taken biology or anatomy since college and that was years ago. I do not speak anatomy so I do not know what to say to you in response to "The pelvic innominates need to articulate in their oscillating fashion."

What I think is curious and relates more to the topic of this discussion is that in my practice, over the years, I've had several yoga practitioners come to me after they were injured in yoga! Many of them have lacked the core strength to perform some even basic pilates exercises. They tell me the Pilates helps and makes them feel stronger. I know this is all anecdotal evidence and if anyone can point me in the direction of some scientific research, I'd appreciate it.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdropshot

The hundreds is a good example. Unfortunately, even though the intention or desire may be to limit the action of the hip flexors, there is literally no way to hold the legs up in that position without full and complete activation of them. And it's the heavy use of the iliacus and psoas muscles with the long lever of the legs acting on them that creates an intense anterior draw on the pelvis. Add to those the rectus femoris quadricep muscle, the TFL and anterior glute minimus and you've got quite a number of muscles pulling forward on the pelvis as they work to hold the legs up. Even with the abdominals engaged and keeping the pelvis stationary and positioned properly, the end result is a hypertonicity and over-active hip flexor group.

I think I hear what your suggesting in terms of use, but there's no other way to lift the legs without the hip flexors, because that's what they do.

sorry for the anatomic language, I'm not trying to speak over anyone... I think in those terms/language so it's difficult to express quickly without it.

I find the same with yoga and others as well. I do think strength is sometimes a relative term though. Take an athlete of whatever sport/activity and give them a task their not accustomed to and surely you'll see them have difficulty. However I don't necessarily think this reflects a weakness per say, but a time in which they need to re-coordinate action. Our nervous sytems thrive on patterning... Just like yoga often feels strange or awkward or challenging for a pilates teacher, it can be the same for any person with any 'new' activity.

I do feel the initial improvement we see in ability has less to do with actual strength increase in the muscles, but proficiency of activation & co-activation alike which reveals the strength that was already present but not effectively activated. I think real gains in strength follow that process.

So I think that any studies on this would have to be performed both ways with multiple discplines/exercise methods to show whether it was the effect I just described or whether it was the particular method itself that makes the difference.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

nice discussion; I just got back from the beach...
jw & dropshot: may I interject?

..."there's no other way to lift the legs without the hip flexors, because that's what they do."

Ever been told to "drop" rather than to "lift" the thighs?

(I can get this thing to italicize but then it won't stop!!! help...)

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Yes, I've heard various cues, I see what you're saying and I do think that it helps... yet it is still the role of the hip flexors that are soley responsible for maintaining the position of the legs. If the flexors released, the legs would hit the floor.

That type of re-direct of intention and sensation is helpful to a point, but those muscles are still very active and the forces involved still remain.

I realize that not all exercises/movements place this kind of demand. So I don't fault the movement as a whole, ...counter-balance seems important to help neutralize the effect of repetitive hip flexion work.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

Sorry everyone. I am way behind. I wrote this out yesterday but didn’t have time to post it. I will add these thoughts to the discussion even though they address previously discussed ideas. (jw – I just read that you have done Pilates before, I was unclear from your previous posts, note that my response assumes that you have not, please take those comments as intended – just to clarify in case it was unclear to you.)

CA - Thank you for inviting me back into the discussion & giving me an open forum to express my personal opinions on the subject. I have no “scientific” evidence beyond over 10 years of seeing positive results in my clients.

Having taught both Yoga & Pilates I am intimately aware of their similarities & differences. My first look at the pictures that Sheri offered of ‘navasana’ & ‘teaser ‘, I admit jw that I had a similar response to yours. Geez, look at Joe’s alignment! Why is he collapsing in his chest? Why are his shoulders up in his ears? Too bad this is how he is being represented. However, after I read the article I revisited the pictures & had an amazing paradigm shift (one that I have been having a lot recently.) When I shifted from looking at the pictures from an alignment paradigm to looking at the pictures from a movement paradigm I saw something completely different. The ‘Navasana’ looked stilted, bound – although the alignment is exemplary (for navasana not teaser) nothing said supple or dynamic. Conversely, when I looked at the picture of Joe it looked dynamic, full of energy, his tissue both supple & strong. The picture had caught him at the peak of the movement. The forces in his body looked balanced. (jw – teaser is not a held posture, the picture you are seeing represents only one moment of the whole movement which begins lying flat on the mat) That said if he were my client I would absolutely speak to his upper body but I would do it in context of how it affected the movement not because I believe that you should “pull the shoulder blades down the back.”

I wasn’t trying to be poetic when I said that Pilates is about movement. It’s essence is movement. You may say – duh? But a commitment to it being whole body movement – not bit part “fixing “of bodies has changed my view greatly over the years. Optimal alignment (including balancing the natural curves of the spine) is a product of efficient movement. Teaching efficient movement is the Pilates instructors job. This job requires a lot of skill. Exceptional teaching is an art & a science. I was in no way implying that just haphazardly putting a client through dynamic movement is the answer. But if Pilates is your modality, whole body movement & breath are the key components.
Jw – In more direct answer to your question. I absolutely do not think that contemporary Pilates is trying to flatten or undo the natural curves of the spine. (I cannot speak for Joe, whom I might remind you was developing his work 70 years ago, before much of the information that we have garnered from Physical Therapy, etc was available & that that picture was snapped of him in the early 40’s.) Quite the contrary, we are trying to balance the musculature around the spine to facilitate the optimal alignment & function for each individual.

What I was trying to say when I said that “flat or hyper was a moot point” was that I have shifted my paradigm from getting caught up in the “positioning” of the body (not alignment) as it moves. Is the pelvis in posterior pelvic tilt? Sometimes. Is it in “neutral?” Sometimes. Is it in anterior tilt? Sometimes. It is where it needs to be to create efficient movement in a particular body doing a particular movement at a particular moment in time. (As each body is different & our bodies are constantly changing.) But the intention remains the same…Is the musculature balanced? Always. Is the movement flowing through the center of the joint? Yes. Am I getting “the spring inside”? Yes. (jw – the spring assistance & resistance of the equipment is unique & brilliant & difficult to describe. I suggest you find a qualified instructor & give it a try) Is the movement creating tissue that is both supple & strong? Absolutely. I hope that you can see how what I am saying speaks to your question if a bit indirectly. In other words, looking at movement & addressing it through the Pilates repertoire addresses clients alignment issues whether they be an overly flat back or a hyper-lordotic one. The end goal & ultimate result remains a supple, strong, oxygenated, circulated body, one that displays the natural curves of the spine due to the forces being balanced in the whole body.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Wallin-Hart

Great, Peggy...thanks.

jw: "p.s.- Carole, don't worry, I'm not looking for any credit whatsoever, otherwise I'd be using my name more than likely. I just want to see some critical thought put into some aspects of this work, as it's all too easy to accept for the sake of tradition."

I understand that you want to see critical thought from your viewpoint. Hopefully we are beyond assumptions that it is not happening. My goodness...;)..!

I meant that it is to your credit if the discussion gets on a track that you are not dissing people, it's a good thing...it's good you are listening, perhaps in a different way, and...I think I can speak to a couple of things.

Hang on, this is phenomenological and there may be parts missing...I don't think it's perfect, I did it quickly, but you'll get the idea I hope.

1)Tradition...? I was never told to flatten my spine, per se. I am certain that Joe taught people to tilt back because he understood forces and how, when, standing, the muscles would spring back like a “watch spring” because muscles work in pairs. That's how they were taught and so they in turn just used those cues without thinking it wasn't about the cue in the moment, but the place Joe was bringing them to. That's why we have the styles in play that we do. They didn't realize Joe's genius in helping people on an individual basis. His book doesn't show that. The many different teaching styles that resulted does, and sometimes, their incorrectness speaks worlds as to how they misinterpreted his work with style!
"The position that you exercise in facilitates the posture." quote from Brenda Anderson and Mary Kasakove, my teachers. In the middle of someone's process of coming into balance, these position could be totally opposite.
I have clients that come in with totally flat backs and neck and arm pain from doing the reformer with too many springs, despite the teacher having asked them to lessen the resistance...that's another story. They have to stay off of the reformer for a while until they are balanced again.

2) I was taught that holding my pelvis back-dynamically, not statically, there's a difference(and it also had to do with the legs and hamstrings)-was good in the moment while lying on your back (I was quite loose when I began pilates), so again, that when you stood up, the back muscles adjust in a new way, having learned something new. Soon I wasn't told to hold my pelvis back so much any more, because I had learned how to stabilize. Some days, I feel I need to tilt, some days I want to feel more arched. So what! :)
During footwork on the reformer, if you have a tendency to roll back(using the vernacular here, jw) your pelvis, then you need to find a way to counteract, again-dynamically, not statically-so that you find a place where the body has an equal transfer of weight up the spine that can also ground enough not to push your shoulders up into the shoulder rests, creating either neck or upper back issues...and vice versa.

Did I understand all this at the time...h-ll no!

I’m not saying one should never initiate from the abs, that’s an option, but it’s also Ok to get the weight transfer going first (especially these days when people are taught to overuse their abs at the expense of the spinal position--that would be called "compromising the alignment for the sake of the dynamic." CA) It’s individual. That’s why it’s hard to teach and come up with hard and fast rules. Teach from principle, not protocol.

3) If you are thinking at the level of the innominates, you are definitely overthinking!
Not to mention, please leave the SI joints alone, as that is what you are to be allowing to come into their own alignment in time (there is a timing and rhythm is all of the muscles of the torso), and allow the leg sockets to differentiate (disassociation is not a term I would use here. Also, remember one should allow for a rotation in the spine that will then need to be counter-balanced, as the leg drops and circles in the sockets, so it supports the action up the body, as you said, jw).

Using the Cadillac leg springs, if you "drop" the thighs (a constant cue from Deborah Lessen, although I don't remember a conversation past that word), which give a pull on the psoas, like a spring, it will feel the drop to gravity and recoil, thus supporting the leg with a kind of bouncy action once the hamstrings "catch" the weight. If the spine gets pulled forward (and you should ultimately allow the entire spine through the neck to feel a pull--play with it), you need to find a transfer of weight rocking the sacrum back through the lumbar (which should ultimately only lightly touch down), perhaps with help from the standing foot-opposite knee bent/footflat, to a place that is about at the mid-thoracic (I call that "the buck stops here" moment, so as not to injure the neck, which my body learned the hard way-only to be noticed years later). You will then begin to feel the abs having to hold back the pelvis from the front-only at the navel, not lower-to help the psoas. A bounce can ask for a response from the psoas at any level of the action repeatedly. Until the psoas learns the dynamic relationship with the multifidi, it needs some help from the abs, which hopefully will learn how to tone up or tone down as needed. Also, here the abs are learning their part in it all, which should not at this point be primary, as is taught by many who believe in the idea of teaching in "neutral spine." I do not--necessarily. It depends. It is individual.

Gravity. Weight. Support. These are principles.

Does that make sense?

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Thanks Peggy,

No problem on the assumption of my experience, or lack-there-of. Yes, I have done pilates over the years, worked in a pilates center and practiced yoga for some time as well. My wife is also a yoga teacher and former dancer, so I'm with you on the movement elements and can appreciate what you're talking about.

I did realize teaser is not a static posture. On that note I just wanted to emphasize a couple of things that underscored my initial points about it. First, whether that posture was static, as in yoga, or dynamic, as in pilates, they both require a rather intense contraction and shortening of the flexors of the body, in addition to the hips. How does this dominant (speaking verses the extensors of the body) flexion activity translate in an upright, moving individual? Given that there is in fact a lot of this flexion emphasis in pilates, how does this benefit the person in the end when it is the primary duty of the extensors to get us standing and moving upright with ease and vertical incline? Is the increase in tonicity, build up of fascial/connective tissues and hyper-vigilant state of these muscular continuities making it any easier for the extensors to do their job with efficiency? Or does it antagonize them a bit? I feel at times that the emphasis on moving from the "core", as Joe defined it, neglects the importance of the legs and their interaction with the ground. Because ultimately, it is the counter-force, or 'ground reaction force' as Judith Aston would put it, that ultimately gives us support and makes movement possible.

I guess part of what I'm saying is that I tend to lean towards the notion that the 'core' begins in our feet and travels all the way up the spine.... And that palintonic balance would be difficult to achieve through both retraction into a 'central' core and over-emphasis on abdominal bracing before every movement, in addition to a lot of flexion based activity. (palintonic being derived from the greek "palintonos" meaning 'unity in opposition')

I agree and understand that emphasis on both exists in pilates. Yet I have to be honest and say that I see quite a bit of flexion dominant activity.... with heads and necks projecting forward during the static and dynamic exercises alike. And it is this 'positioning', even if it's transient at times, that is building new neurologic connections for neuromuscular coordination. Even if one is moving through and only temporarily held there, the abdominals are firing while the head/neck is sticking forward, the spinal musculature is following and negotiating this pattern, etc.... It is the basis of muscular patterning, re-enforced with repetition.

So yes, I do see your point and I believe that the fluid motion helps to negate some of what I'm talking about. But I'm having a hard time with the notion that it resolves the issue altogether. Especially when I notice that many of the pilates teachers or students that I've worked with have marked limited extension in their hips.

Peggy, you certainly don't have to try and 'convince' me otherwise, I still appreciate your thoughts and input. It does serve the purpose of clarity, even if I may or may not agree.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

I moved my latest response to this thread to a new post entitled "Philosophical, Ideological & Biomechanical Contemplations".

Thought it best to leave this post for comment on the original topic, as Sherri graciously put forth.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

And, I'm posting mine here, because these threads take all kinds of twists and turns. Why single my post out?

wow. Thought, no. Try it first, maybe.

Very impressive, language, that I do understand, btw. And, yes(I'm refraining from putting DUH), ...the SI's will respond and then you'll see what to do next.

Do not put words in my mouth. I never said to keep anything "fixed." You, however, are so locked into one way of thinking!!! Could that be what's stopping your motion?

yes...I said the hamstring "catches"--helloooo... That means the pelvis will probably tilt back. Glad you got that.

right backatcha.

I absolutely get the idea. The question is whether you can shut your mind off from telling your body what to do every second. These were just landmark cues for you to test out. I'd wait and see what happens in working with you.

yes...I said you need to use the leg springs, so that you can learn to keep the leg in the socket while learning to move it properly in rhythm with the sacrum and lumbar, and the rest of the spine, as I said, a very important piece.

While you're at it...could you sense the room around you?

Again, yes...balance on the sacrum and allow the leg and lumbar to figure it out...because those are the joints in communication.

So...Q: if you understand this all so well, why the pain? I'm pretty convinced by now that you just need to be right and to argue. I've been too slow to learn, here, and gave you way too much benefit.

Pilates is a process. Good luck. That's all I got forya. An obvious waste of time, unless anyone else liked it...I'd like to hear...

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Very interesting points have been brought up - thank you for making me think.

Carol thank you for articulating the psoas as "spring" idea.

jw - I'd like to recommend a wonderful book called "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Wallin-Hart


"jw - I'd like to recommend a wonderful book called "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey."

Are you suggesting that I have some sort of unresolved inner conflict, anxiety or doubt going on? hmmmm... . My thoughts and questions always seem to come back to my own faults or short-comings.... that's curious.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjustwondering

I am grateful to dropshot.

dropshot writes on the Philo/Ideo/Bimech Community post:
"By the way, JW, I think I see your point regarding the anatomy talk -- it is another way of looking at things. It's not my way and doesn't speak to me at all but if you like to look at things through that lens, fine by me. I come from the purely classical world of Pilates where we didn't talk that way. Romana taught me to use my eyes and my common sense."

In this Y&P article post, above, dropshot writes:
"What I think is curious and relates more to the topic of this discussion is that in my practice, over the years, I've had several yoga practitioners come to me after they were injured in yoga! Many of them have lacked the core strength to perform some even basic pilates exercises. They tell me the Pilates helps and makes them feel stronger. I know this is all anecdotal evidence and if anyone can point me in the direction of some scientific research, I'd appreciate it."

I have information on research that was done in the 50's on how people relax that is noteworthy. The research was validated in the 60's. Basically (to answer dropshot and pull together the above two paragraphs), the research validates a manual tension test as "practical", while electromyography, the most valid tension measure at the time, was also "impractical for clinical use." This points to the fact that we can see and feel muscular responses, and we don’t necessarily need to know the research behind it, in order to be effective as practitioners.

This is the information that I have been trying to bring to the pilates community for years. Finally, the question is being asked.

Like you said, again, dropshot, on the Y&P post,
"My advice: Don’t overthink it. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I do think that one can get into “analysis-paralysis.” If I worried about every little thing my body was doing, I wouldn’t play tennis, or garden, or dance."

Absolutely. For us, it's enough that we know the work helps. Do we want to know more about why? Yes, you asked the question! There are many inquisitive minds out there...we need a place to come together and discuss our findings. I, with the help of others, will try to answer in our way on the AIM Academy blog: http://aasicontributions.blogspot.com Everyone is invited to the conversation.

Also, readers may be interested in the comments on the Who is the Next Generation of Pilates Professionals Community Post by Stacey R-D.

January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

Carole: sorry I could not get back earlier - I worked all week all day long. Just wanted to say I am a bit confused with your response to my comment from Jan 11th. Regarding my quoting a classical teacher who said that we were not supposed to walk around "like that" meaning in the position we exercise in when lying supine. You assume that I think this is not correct, but in my mail I do not say so anywhere.English is not my first language, but am I that ambigious in my phrasing? On the contrary, I very much agree with him, and that workshop was a pearl in the string that made me want to discover and study Pilates the way it was originally taught.

What surprises me is that there is no outrageous outburst from anyone regarding my criticizing attitude concerning the use of "Neutral Spine".

January 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOriane

Hi Oriane,
I am so glad you wrote back. Assumptions can kill a conversation, and I avoid them as much as I can, which is why I asked. I am sorry for any confusion (your english is great; the internet is difficult).

Everything else you said sounded like you agreed with the classical version. However, right after you said what the classical teacher had said, you then said you were dissatisfied with your teacher training...so I wasn't sure. Thanks for writing back and clarifying and giving me a chance to explain. (Now I surmise that the teacher training you took taught neutral spine..? hope that's right, now.)

Yes! It was a pearl for me, too, what my teachers said to me. I wrote about it in my January 11 post under 1).

I absolutely got the idea that you did not agree with neutral spine, so, that's why I thought we were on the same page. Thank you! I feel that the PMA 2006 Position Paper: On Pilates (on their website) is biased towards a physical therapy approach. Without negating their concept necessarily, I will say here that it is simply too short a document to explain it clearly and causes a lot of problems.

Yes, why hasn't a physical therapist arrived on the scene here to stand up for "Neutral Spine"? I don't know, and I am only offering suggestions(not assumptions): Maybe they believe the approach has permeated the field enough so they don’t need to defend it. Or perhaps they do not want to embarrass us; I really do think that many people think that classical teachers have it all wrong. Maybe they are silent because they think we are embarrassing ourselves enough. :)

I think there is a huge discussion on neutral spine that needs to take place.

I am happy that to hear that you believe what your body tells you is right. I, too, feel that they are only "seemingly opposing worlds" as you say, and I have some research (not mine) I would be happy to share with you or anyone who wants it. Please contact me when you can!
info@aim-academy.org or comment on my blog: http://aasicontributions.blogspot.com
-Carole :)

January 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

As other contributors to this conversation in the past have mentioned (jw was the most prominent), spinal positioning is quite important and there is plenty of evidence to support the questions he raised. Also as he mentioned it doesn't mean that flexion is inappropriate as a whole as there are exercises when it is more stable for the spine. And there are other times when it is not. Pilates, especially the classical approach, uses flexion based positioning too often, such that more harm than good will result, short or long term. And to repeat what has already been noted, developing co-contractive patterns with the spine in this position more often than not, does in fact translate into the same type of holding pattern when you walk out of the studio. If the point is to not walk around like that, then what is the functional use of the exercise? How does that support activities of daily living if we are not meant to utilize and access the strength developed in that range or position?

It's not black or white. But there is a dominance as it's practiced today and classically alike. Further effort should be made to critically analyze (from all vantage points) what those dominant tendencies are and what the overall impact is having on the body. It might then become evident why JW was expressing concern and question around the issues of lumbar and hip flexion dominance.

That's all I'll say on this. I share JW's concerns so further commentary would probably end up much the same.

Carole, you may, or may not, be right in your assumptions about some of the PTs. For better or worse.

January 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenteraPTslant

"Further effort should be made to critically analyze (from all vantage points) what those dominant tendencies are and what the overall impact is having on the body."

So, you are saying...that all vantage points have to get together and look at the dominant tendencies of the classical method.

Can we also look at the dominant tendencies of the contemporary, modern, PT, scientific method and critically analyze them? Excessive lumbar lordosis has also been noted on this forum.

Let's start looking at what is right in both.
Let go the mat and have a conversation.

jw made the point loud and clearly evident. My “disagreements” with him are about his statements of lack of faith in "most teachers," which really doesn't help communication-wise. We are all obviously smart people doing good work.

I do have a solution that works for me and my clients that I can share. The approach, while it includes “critical” analysis, also provides a “complimentary” analysis. That is, I also see what is right about all vantage points in respect to positioning of the spine at appropriate times.

The approach also offers, to stay “on-topic”, reasons why some people prefer yoga to pilates. It offers an explanation as to the “differences" without telling people that they are wrong for their preferences. Different qualities of movement work are required for different bodies. No one is wrong, just “different” in their preferred or appropriate dynamics.

I have been writing on my blog that how these issues are presented in teacher trainings of all kinds is important for client safety, AND they are at the crux of our “pilatical” (pilates+politics) problems as well. Would anyone agree with that?

“That's all I'll say on this. I share JW's concerns so further commentary would probably end up much the same.”
So, you think it’s futile then, aPTslant?

There are teachers who get the difference and know exactly what I am talking about...they just don’t spend their Sunday mornings writing on the net. I would like to inspire them to get involved in this discussion (on the mat!), because the pilatics of it could affect them...and yoga teachers, and personal trainers...heard about the bill in New Jersey?

“Carole, you may, or may not, be right in your assumptions about some of the PTs. For better or worse.”

I’ll say this: I am hearing your search for a way to be generous. :) thanks...:) and thanks for posting (could you also take a peek at my blog...please...there will be info on FREE Gatherings).

January 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarole Amend

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