Jenny Bradford showing her strength and flexibility in Running Man Post
Yoga always intrigued me but didn’t find the ‘right’ studio to join. Most were intimidating and kinda “dogmatic.” But ironically, the spiritual side of Yoga attracted me to the practice, since I know, mind, body and spiritual connection is vital to health. So what did I do?
I bougth a “Warrior Yoga” CD by Trudie Styler, Sting’s beautiful wife, and I practice it every other day in the morning before anyone wakes up. As I said before, exercise and I don’t get along (but I”m trying!) so a 30 minute session to start getting my body more flexible works for me. And maybe, once I can do a proper Rajakapotasana post, maybe I’ll visit a local yoga studio with some dignity.
Then, there is Pilates. A friend who suffers from chronic lower back pain started Pilates and swears by it. She said it strengthens her lower back so it prevents exacerbation of her injury. But I thought yoga built strength so how is Pilates different from yoga? And do I need it in addition to Yoga?
Jenny Bradford of Conscientious Confusion has been practicing yoga for ten years. Also, she teaches kids’ yoga and a form of Pilates so I asked her to explain what the differences between these two wildly popular form of exercises are.
Yoga and Pilates: What You Should Know
1. How long have you been practicing and teaching yoga?
I have been practicing yoga for a little over 10 years now. I am currently only certified to teach children, I completed that training in May of 2013.
2. How did you get into teaching yoga to children? Any plans to teach adults one day?
The studio where I started practicing Ashtanga yoga after having my second child was offering the training and I took it as a way to branch out my fitness instruction in the direction of yoga, where my heart is. I would absolutely love to teach adults one day, it is a minimum 200 hour certification and very intense. I think it is a goal for after both my children are in real school full time (2016 unless we have a third child!).
3. Do you teach any other form of fitness?
I have been teaching Lagree Fitness on the Megaformer since June of 2012, so about a year and a half.
4. What is Megaformer?
The Megaformer is similar to a Pilates Reformer only much more robust – the Lagree machine is made of steel and looks like a Nautilus machine rather than the wooden frame of the traditional Pilates Reformer. The workouts flow more easily and there is less transition time than a traditional Reformer due to the different springs and bars on the Megaformer.
5. What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates?
Yoga is all about listening to your body and “going to your level”, which means judging what works for you today and not forcing anything. Yoga is about breathing, opening up and outward, and listening. Pilates is more fitness centric, more about pushing your limits. The form that I teach is also cardiovascular because it is so intense. Yoga can be intense as well, but to some degree the intensity of yoga is determined by the person practicing, while with Pilates I find the intensity to be inherent to the movements and encouraged by the instructor more. There is a level of tension that is always maintained throughout a Pilates session, while yoga is about relaxing every muscle, even during effort. To me personally, Pilates is very “up and inward”, while yoga is “open and outward”. I feel like I need both to be balanced.
6. Which is easier to start Yoga or Pilates for someone who never did either?
Both are great if you have a good instructor because the knowledge of the instructor and their ability to modify for beginners is key. For a fairly fit person, either would be appropriate. For someone with pre-existing injuries or limited flexibility, I would recommend starting with a restorative yoga class. That type of class is specifically formatted for you and will allow your body to start growing toward other types of yoga and Pilates. For someone seeking cross-training (we get a lot of runners), traditional or Megaformer Pilates is a great way to branch out. Lagree Fitness is a good type of Pilates for someone with joint issues, because it is not done on a mat. Sometimes lying flat on a mat with traditional Pilates can be hard on the joints, but the Megaformer removes that obstacle.
7. What are benefits for both?
Both are about core strength, and lengthening muscles by steady, sustained movements. You will not bulk up with either approach, because you are using the short twitch muscles fibers, the “long and lean” fibers that are so visible in dancers. These short twitch muscle fibers that take a long time to exhaust but also a long time to recover afterward, so your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate as it utilizes energy to recover.
8. We should be careful when starting any exercise but what should we be especially careful of when starting them?
Do not compare yourself to others in the class! Listen to your body and go to your level, even if the instructor doesn’t specifically say that out loud. Trying to do too much is the fastest way to injury. Both yoga and Pilates use slow and controlled movements, allowing you time to think about what feels comfortable to you and to modify before you do it, if necessary. Use that time. The popular cross-training boot camps that are popular right now have routines that move so quickly that you can hurt yourself, but slow and controlled movements are safe. Instructors will offer modifications – don’t be afraid to take them! Be assured that you are not the first “newbie” that an instructor has seen. Most fitness instructors have specific routines that we can use in a class when we know there is someone new in the room that will allow our more seasoned clients to still get a great workout, so don’t worry about dragging the class down!
9. What is about yoga that is so ‘addictive”?
I think the breathing has a lot to do with it. So often in our daily lives we are existing on short, shallow breaths, never fully filling our lungs or letting the air out in a way that allows all the muscles in our body to fully contract. Spending 45 minutes to 1.5 hours increasing the oxygen flow to the brain feels pretty amazing. And at the end of the class, there is shivasana, or a time of lying still. Lying perfectly still and quiet within our own minds is another thing that most people do not do often enough. I always tell my kids that shivasana is the hardest part of yoga, especially for adults! We have to really learn to quiet our minds and listen without fear. it’s great for kids to start learning how to do that at a young age.
10. And is yoga always so spiritual? What if we are not spiritual?
I actually started yoga in a class at a gym! I actually recommend that sometimes to people who are uncomfortable with the spiritual aspect because there is unlikely to be a meditative aspect to a class at a gym. However, the level of “spirituality” is very specific to the instructor and the type of yoga being practiced. If you are looking for a less spiritual yoga, try something with “power yoga” in the name (but not Bikram if you are new to yoga). Ask a friend who does yoga or get references. You can read the biographies of instructors on the studio web site and you can read the philosophy of a studio. Find a place with which you are comfortable. Just because you think one instructor is “looney tunes” doesn’t mean they all are! I once had an instructor tell us to play with an invisible ball of energy over our heads. I was like, “Uh, what?!”. That was not an instructor I took class from again.
11. Finally, what advice would you give someone who wants to start the new year on a healthier note?
Start with just a few small, measurable changes! Drink more water, find a workout buddy, get 1 more hour of sleep per night. Don’t phrase it as a negative: “I’m going to stop eating all refined sugar”, but instead, “I am going to find new things to feed my body when I have sugar cravings”. Also, focus on a goal: why are you taking these steps? For me, I am doing a 30 day macrobiotic cleanse in order to try to clear up my skin. I am going to remember how great my skin looked last year when I have trouble sticking to it, rather than focusing on what I can’t have.
Awesome advice Jenny! Thank You!!
Jenny Bradfor blogs on Conscientious Confusion about living consciously, which includes being conscious of the impact we have on our earth by green living as well as being conscious of our own bodies through natural health and wellness, fitness and nutrition.
Do you practice Yoga or Pilates? What benefits have you experienced?