Yoga and Pilates each provide unique and soul-restoring methods of strengthening mind, body and spirit – benefits for anyone fighting a health issue.
When I discovered Pilates, I’d had three lower-back surgeries and years of chronic sciatica and lower-back pain. I’ve never felt healthier than during the two years I trained with Pilates teacher Brooke Anderson, whose own start in Pilates came as she battled lower-back pain from years of running.
“When I discovered how much Pilates worked your core (abdominal) muscles in ways I never thought possible – as opposed to just doing crunches – I knew I had found the answer to my back pain,” she shared.
Brooke said Pilates transformed her body. “My muscles became leaner, longer and stronger. I had more definition without the ‘bulk’ I had gotten from weight lifting. The best part was that I had so much fun doing it! No longer were workouts tedious and just something to ‘get through,’ they became something I couldn’t wait to do as often as possible.”
Sherry discovered Pilates in 2010 and fell in love with the body and mind transformations, as well. Her trainer, Katie Addington, credits Pilates’ breathing technique as “a huge stress reliever,” she said. “Expelling the old oxygen out and bringing fresh in is good for the body and mind.”
In fact, the primary difference between yoga and Pilates is all about breathing, Brooke explained. “In Pilates, lateral, or intercostal, breathing is used,” she said. “It emphasizes the lateral expansion of the rib cage while maintaining a consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles during both inhalation and exhalation.
“Yoga emphasizes diaphragmatic breathing, the lowering of the diaphragm during inhalation, with the abdominal muscles relaxed so they are allowed to push outward (belly breathing).
“Both practices focus on stretching and strengthening the muscles, but Pilates is much more core centered, constantly engaging the deepest abdominal layer within the torso in all the movements.”
When Brooke began teaching 16 years ago, she says she immediately “fell in love with seeing how much their bodies transformed and their muscle imbalances and pain disappeared. I am now able to teach people about what function their muscles play in posture and spinal alignment, and how to properly engage the muscles in simple daily tasks, like sitting properly at a desk, picking up their child or training for a specific sport.”
Improvements to the body naturally extend to the mind, she said. “The mental benefits are amazing. When you begin a Pilates session, you learn to leave your worries at the door. Throughout the hour session, you are so hyper focused on breathing technique and body movement that you are unable to think of anything else. For that one hour, you are truly dedicated to you and the most basic fundamentals of your body. Most clients walk away feeling taller, lighter and more prepared to face the world. It is an amazing transformation!”
Pilates offers two main approaches: mat (floor) exercises and exercises performed on an apparatus called a reformer. Brooke said both are extremely beneficial, but she particularly enjoys the more personalized approach of the reformer, since the workout is catered to the needs of each person. “There are certain exercises performed on the reformer that help aid a person so they may perform matt exercise with more ease, and vice versa,” Brooke explained. “It truly depends on the client’s personal needs.”
Brooke and Katie recommend working one-on-one with a certified Pilates instructor. “Once you understand the basic fundamentals of Pilates and gain strength, then group reformer or mat classes can be performed with ease,” Brooke said.
Today, Brooke trains from her home in Raleigh, N.C., and has clients of all ages, including a 70-year-old with extraordinary strength on the reformer — even after having a knee replacement!