Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Pilates Peg in a Yoga Hole with a Side of Biceps

Back in 2000, I was hit by a car. The gruesome details were on a much earlier iteration of my blog. (I'm sure it's out there somewhere. Nothing disappears from the internet). Suffice to say it was not fun. Luckily nothing was broken but I was pretty banged up. My health insurance did not cover much more than a cane, so after limping along unevenly for a while, I developed scoliosis. My insurance company then provided me with only 10 physical therapy sessions, barely enough just to scratch the surface of my uneven body.

My physical therapist suggested yoga and pilates. The former was pretty much already embedded around NYC, but Pilates was still something just about to burst big time on the scene.

I scoped out a few yoga classes (easy enough to find) and let's just say it wasn't for me. It was incredibly unwelcoming, which was sort of surprising. If one is  clearly a newbie, one needs to feel like that's not a bad thing.The instructors also really pushed me into positions which were obviously not going to happen if I was that uneven. That doesn't mean that there were no good and welcoming yoga places in NYC, but I was not feeling it. Years later, I saw this article and, of course, felt vindicated. 

Pilates, perhaps because it was still relatively new to the non-dancer public, was much more welcoming. And while I've had a few not-so-great instructors, for the most part they've been pretty excellent. I will say there was one instructor, Jesse,  who tried to have me banished after I asked about her tattoos (being fairly covered myself, it was sort of general question, not sexual), but she soon became my teacher for several years. See, no one is infallible. And it was Jesse who was there when my pelvis actually aligned for the first time in years. An awesome moment. And I am still going to Pilates to this day.

I should point out that I prefer the one-on-one sessions, rather than group. And I'm just as picky on my Pilates instructors as I am with my gym trainers. No exercising fools do I suffer!

I think the reason I also took better to Pilates is that it is a much more regimented set of exercises. It was developed by a boxer for the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers, so maybe that very concentrated sets on building your core appeals to me more than yoga's more....undefined...self. But I also have seen Pilates classes where the instructor is not paying attention to form and treating it more like "feel your body move this way". And I've seen yoga classes that seem more like boot camp. 

It seems to have become an mashup of all exercise without too much accountability. Especially as Pilates has now fallen in with yoga as a "mind-body" form of exercise. This I find odd, as, to me, Pilates really is a purely physical endeavor. 

And (here's where I'll get into some trouble), Pilates is often treated as a "women's exercise." And women tend to view exercise as a more social endeavor. There was a time when I did Pilates with only male clients in the room and all the instructors kept exclaiming how quiet it was. Because women clients do often see time with their instructors as more of a time to interact. I will say my current Pilates guy, Jeremy, and I never chat until after each session. The time of the session is kept to just the exercise.To me, it's the same as a workout with my gym trainer, just with different equipment and perhaps nicer decor.

But getting to my point: The reason I looked into both of these regimens was to help my alignment and balance, not as a workout regimen. They definitely help to get your muscles and body more aware, but it's not like one should expect six pack abs and mega biceps from either Pilates or yoga. Which is why it's odd the hear people doing "power pilates", "super abs yoga" and the like. 

I'm not sure how people see this as the sole source of exercise and then get displeased when the results do not gibe with what we see in fitness/fashion magazines. One such study showed that young women and men who did yoga or Pilates still had the same amount of body image issues compared to those who did not participate. In fact, women who did yoga had a slightly higher incidence of body image issues. Not terribly surprising when the most popular manufacturer of designer yoga clothes and cultish devotion declines to sell anything larger than a size 12 and doesn't display anything larger than a size 8 in their stores. What sort of "total mind-body experience" are we trying to push, aside from body shaming. 

And yet this move towards seeing them as hardcore exercising was continued this week in the NY Times. Which is better for strengthening? Even with these 2.0 versions, yoga and Pilates are two completely different forms of workout and, in my eyes, neither should be considered for overall bodywork strengthening.

I've now practiced Pilates longer than anyone I know who hasn't been involved in the dance world. While I am so much more aligned and have a better balance and more stable core, it did not change my body into Streamlined Ska Librarian. Rather, I think it prepared me to be ready to train, but to be very honest, my Pilates has gotten better because of my current years of weight training and cardio. 

Pilates made me the Aligned Yet Retro Ska Librarian and for that I'm thankful. But it is not yoga, nor is it cardio.

To put in Ska Librarian Logic:

Pilates ≠ Weight Training ≠ Yoga

And in diversity there is strength. 


“Ask Well: Pilates Vs. Yoga.” Well. Accessed August 10, 2013.

Bhasin, Kim. “Lululemon Admits Plus-Size Clothing Is Not Part Of Its ‘Formula’.” Huffington Post. Accessed August 12, 2013.

Broad, William J. “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” The New York Times, January 5, 2012, sec. Magazine.

Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne, Marla E. Eisenberg, Melanie Wall, and Katie A. Loth. “Yoga and Pilates: Associations with Body Image and Disordered-eating Behaviors in a Population-based Sample of Young Adults.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 44, no. 3 (2011): 276–280. doi:10.1002/eat.20858.

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