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Health: Mind, Body, and Soul

by on June 29, 2018 3:04 PM

Yoga and Pilates have been rising in popularity in the United States, with interest spurred by celebrity practitioners. As a result, more local fitness centers are offering classes, making it easy for people of all fitness levels to improve their health through these slow-paced exercises.

Yoga is an ancient practice, dating back as far as 5,000 years ago in India. The word “yoga” means to join or yoke together – in this case, joining body and mind. Various styles of yoga exist, but all combine physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. In the United States, yoga began gaining interest in the 1920s and 1930s.

Pilates (pronounced puh-lah-teez) was developed by Joseph Pilates early in the 20th century to help injured World War I soldiers regain their health by strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing key muscles. Although Pilates based some of the movements on yoga poses, his exercises concentrate on the core muscles between the shoulders and pelvis.

Both yoga and Pilates are low-impact forms of exercise that enhance flexibility, balance, and strength without building bulky muscles. Most exercises require only a floor mat, although some Pilates providers offer instruction using a “reformer” resistance machine. Special yoga/Pilates shoes and socks are available, but most people practice barefoot. Bringing a mat from home takes care of hygiene concerns when going without footwear.

In the practice of both yoga and Pilates, participants concentrate on moving their body into precise positions, requiring focus on the task at hand. In yoga, participants hold each position to increase the benefit, while Pilates participants often challenge the body by moving in each position. Neither practice involves speed – slow, careful movements into position provide the benefits that participants are seeking.

Rewards of yoga/Pilates

Exercises can be adapted to the fitness level of the participant, providing gentle training for a beginner or a challenging workout for a top athlete. Whether someone chooses yoga or Pilates, long-term benefits can include:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing overall fitness
  • Managing chronic conditions
  • Preventing and treating back pain
  • Improving posture and balance
  • Making it easier to get a good night’s sleep
  • Advancing range of motion

However, neither yoga nor Pilates is an aerobic workout. That means participants also should do aerobic exercise several times a week; even brisk walking counts as aerobic exercise to help keep the cardiovascular system healthy.

Although both yoga and Pilates should be safe for beginners, it’s important to check with a medical provider before starting any new exercise plan. Precautions may be needed for anyone with high blood pressure, risk of blood clots, herniated disks or another pre-existing condition, or who is pregnant. Sign up with an experienced instructor who can make sure students are using the correct form in all postures or exercises.

Yoga and Pilates positions or exercises should challenge the body with increasing difficulty, but they should not be painful. Gradually increase abilities over time, rather than trying to push too far as a beginner.

Tips for success

As with any sport or activity, follow general guidelines for safe and successful workouts:

  • Wear comfortable clothes that allow a full range of motion and will not require adjustment while moving from one pose to another.
  • Eat a light snack before exercising. Wait several hours after a full meal.
  • Drink plenty of water, especially if participating in “hot yoga,” which is done in a room heated as high as 105 degrees.
  • Do ask questions of the instructor, if needed, but don’t interrupt the concentration of others by holding conversations with classmates.
  • Dedicate a small space at home to practice so that it’s easy to make yoga or Pilates part of the daily routine.

Appreciate each small advance as mastery increases. The practice of yoga or Pilates can provide significant health benefits even if one never reaches the “ultimate” practice of a five-minute yoga headstand or Pilates plank position. Enjoy the rewards of practicing yoga or Pilates – or both – at a level that is individually appropriate.


Barbara H. Cole, MS, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner with Penn State Medical Group, 1850 E. Park Ave., Suite 207, State College. For more information, call (814) 235-2480.
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