Yoga or Pilates...which do you choose?

Taking a break from art for a minute I thought I would do a little comparison of two fitness options many women choose to incorporate into their lifestyle: yoga and Pilates. Seeing as it's February, the month when most New Year's resolutions fall by the wayside and the sea of gym goers starts to decline I wondered how many have actually continued to go. If you've chosen to incorporate either of these two into your routine, you may have questioned which is better for your body. In which case, you are not alone. Truthfully, you're unlikely to lose weight from either one of them. But doing them is still worth it.

Pilates will not only tighten your muscles, it will also balance them out. The latter is important, because if you have weak inner thigh muscles your outer thighs will keep pulling your knee cap to the side and then you're going to have problems with your joints. Not only will you have pain in your knee but you'll also have trouble building muscle tone in your legs and butt. Your body needs balance in every step it takes, quite literally. So, if your feet don't land evenly or at the same height, your legs are likely to turn in and create poor or uneven muscle tone. Pilates can help fix this because it uses small and isolated movements that work each side of the leg muscles evenly. And when you create balance and move with balance, your body will align in such a way as to optimize your muscle building potential. Without this, your muscles will not "fire" and you legs will simply schlep along moving your loose body tissue (yes, the one you are trying to lose) but without really using it. And because you won't be building muscle, you will not be able to increase your metabolism. Hence, you'll exercise without any results. But there is hope...

These are discontinued but I like them so much I hope they'll bring them back
Before you jump into Pilates thinking it's going to solve all your problems, first look at why you have weak muscle tone in the first place. We may not all have been lucky enough to take gymnastics or ballet as children. And it's too bad, because if you know anyone who has you'll notice that they have no trouble staying fit. Generally speaking, once you have muscle, it's here to stay. That's why finding an underlying cause here is an important step. Usually, the root problem is pronation (or flat feet), sometimes scoliosis and leg length imbalances. If you don't know if you have one of these issues speaking to your doctor may help. Many people whose feet turn in have to wear orthotics. The problem is you often can't wear them during yoga or Pilates. Plus it's easier to go barefoot. That's why Nike's Studio Wrap 4 shoes are brilliant. Not only can you fit in an orthotic to correct your flat feet but you can also insert a lift if you need one. A leg length imbalance is more common than you think. But it requires an x-ray, taken while you're standing up, to really see if there is a length differential. Consequently, solid and supported feet should be the foundation of good health and a precursor to any exercise program. Without them, you might as well go out and play with marbles.

Finding the right mat to use is the next challenge. Pilates mats are often thicker than yoga ones although you can probably find thicker yoga mats if you look around. Stott Pilates offers decent sized mats at reasonable prices. Personally, I use three mats and just layer them on top of one another. My yoga teacher meanwhile recommends one from B Mat. This Canadian company has several styles and sizes, and although not cheap, you'll likely to get a lasting product. Some are quite hefty though, so while they may help prevent knee problems, don't be surprised if you end up with a shoulder strain from carrying one around. To better protect your knees you can also look for Yoga Rat pads. A thera band, used in both practices, is your next best friend. Not only will it provide you with support, it will also allow for ease of movement when you exercise. A good instructor can help you tailor your movements if you need them. If you find taking classes too pricey, don't let that derail you. There are plenty of good material online and videos on Youtube that can easily help you to create your own workout plan. You can even add ballet to your repertoire by including some ballet moves from balletbeautiful.com.

I find working out in a long sleeve top is especially comfortable. It keeps you warm, which may help improve your circulation, and it just feels good. Plus, you don't have to worry about how your arms will look. Lululemon seems to have the best selection and value for your money. They're not cheap but overall, they're a win-win. You won't be disappointed with their quality, fit or design and they'll likely to last you forever.

So, when it comes to choosing between yoga or Pilates, I say do both as you'll get different benefits from each one. Pilates will balance and then eventually strengthen your muscles. While yoga will increase your flexibility and bring about a mindfulness that even a massage won't bring. If you have a lot of stress, each one will help, but yoga might relax you just a little bit more. Once you figure out how your body alignment affects your movement you can work to bring about greater balance in your body. That way, when the time comes to do your cardio, your muscles will work better, they will strengthen and you will lose weight more effectively.

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