how pilates changed my yoga practice

Throughout college and graduate schools I was always trying to find a “workout” regime that worked for me, my schedule, and my student budget. In addition to running, I used to search for good videos–I owned about 10 tae-bo VCRs (yes, VCR), and after watching endless Windsor Pilates infomercials I purchased those as well. I liked parts of Pilates–the parts that felt hard and like I was working my muscles, but a lot of it felt pointless and I didn’t get it. When I became a lawyer, I joined a gym and took a few of the Pilates classes but was quickly bored by the same sequence and the instructor who sat on his mat lazily saying what came next. Much like my journey with yoga, I didn’t think Pilates was “hard” enough, it didn’t burn enough calories, and it fell by the wayside.

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When I started teaching yoga at Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga in June 2013, I fell in love with teaching challenging but fun classes. I have a background in anatomy and like to use cueing and imagery to help students engage the right muscles. I also started to attend Megan Brown’s Pilates classes–including Hot Pilates when she launched that program. And holy wow, this was not the boring Pilates that I had thought Megan showed me that by using cueing and hands on assists (and playing loud music and having fun), Pilates could be *the* most killer workout I have ever experienced.

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The thing with Pilates is that it gets harder the more you practice it. You use the breath to move precisely with control. Every time you do it you make more connections between your mind and your body to carve out and define muscles. It has nothing to do with burning calories, and rather is about building strength and body awareness. It helps to have a great teacher who can describe what muscles should be working and how to use them correctly, and one who can keep the mind engaged throughout class as well since it can be easy to mentally check out.

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I became certified in Pilates in 2014 and now teach several of the Hot Pilates classes at Mind the Mat. Since starting to practice Pilates several times a week, I have noticed that my yoga practice has transformed. While I adore yoga, and especially love the movement and creativity it allows, it is a practice largely lacking in core work (especially safe and effective core work.) In yoga training, you usually learn one core move – boat pose. And quite honestly, that is the poor man’s version of the Pilates teaser which more effectively engages the deeper abdominals without straining the back. Now that I understand Pilates, I can incorporate that knowledge into my yoga practice and classes. It has built a ton of underlying strength in my arms, core, glutes, and legs, and has increased my body awareness and ability to control my movements a hundred fold.

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In the yoga world, Pilates is sometimes discounted because it is seen as “just” a workout. To me, though, Pilates is the ultimate yoga. To be completely focused on your breath and the connection to your core and movement can be an almost transcendental experience. A great instructor helps you to work past the point you thought you could, which builds such mental and physical fortitude, and at the end you feel incredibly accomplished.

Since Mind the Mat began offering a monthly unlimited membership, a lot of our yoga students have started to add Pilates and barre (basically standing Pilates) classes into their schedule, and vice versa. As the Director of the studio, I love hearing feedback on how much Pilates has helped students build strength, muscle control, and body awareness so that they can advance in their yoga practice. The plank work of Pilates helps with chaturangas. The core work builds strength for arm balances and inversions – if you attend any handstand clinic, most of the time is spent talking about using your core and Pilates students have an upper hand. Trying to jump forward and back smoothly? Add a slight Pilates tuck to your tailbone. Tight hamstrings? Several of the moves in Pilates stretch them out even better than yoga will. And in general, learn how to really connect breath, body, and movement seamlessly together. If you’ve been hesitant to give Pilates a try, I encourage you to check it out – and make sure to let me know what you think!

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