Response to Ask Well: Yoga vs. Pilates

In my many years of listening to interviews on NPR I began to notice something of a trend.  Experts tend to speak more cautiously and less definitively about their topic of expertise than lay people do when speaking about the same topic.  I began to think that this happens because an expert knows the complexity of their area of expertise far more intimately than a novice does.

In the world of Pilates we have a few teachers who studied with Joseph Pilates.  One woman, Romana Kryzanowska agreed to uphold and defend his legacy.  She has dedicated over sixty years to that charge.  Romana is a brilliant teacher who I have had the benefit of learning from, both in person and via many other wonderful teachers who have invested years in their lives to studying with her.  One teaching method that Romana almost universally applies is that she addresses every question with movement.  If you ask her a question, she puts her answer in motion, within the actual material of Pilates.  For those of us who tend toward the intellectual this may be challenging.  Or it may be precisely what we need:  to work in our bodies, integrate first on the physical level in the present moment, analyze on the intellectual level afterward.  I’d go so far as to say that for us living in this hyper-intellectualized world this may be the best possible medicine for each of us.  Our bodies are starved for movement.  Well-designed, carefully executed movement is all the better.  But movement of any kind opens up possibilities that we lack in our contemporary, sedentary lifestyle.

There are, of course, media savvy experts.  People who have figured out how to bridge the gap between the 24-7 world of sound bytes and the world that those of us driven by passion of some kind inhabit.  Neil deGrasse Tyson comes to mind.  He has mastered the art of the sound byte.  But his point was and is always to lead people into his world.  The sound byte is merely the portal.

This NYT article amounts to a sound byte.  It introduces readers to yoga and Pilates.  But, as with all courses of study worth investigating, anybody who choses to delve into either, will find a lifetime of interesting material.  Any physical discipline offers its students this.  It is our bodies and our lives that make the material come to life.  Clearly yoga has some substance to it, it’s been practiced for centuries and the number of people practicing steadily increases.  Pilates, while a contemporary technique, is on par with yoga.  It is a brilliant system of exercise for the entire body.  It was conceived in response to the industrial lifestyle.  It is an ideal form of exercise for people living in western society.

But, Pilates is a legally a generic term.  It is up to the consumer to determine how to learn Pilates, what lineage to grow from, what teachers to study with.  Those choices will determine a tremendous amount of a person’s experience with Pilates.

The deeper a person journeys into their own path of self discovery with Pilates, the more absurd articles such as this one seem.  To read of Pilates being described in such trifling terms is upsetting to those who are passionately invested in a lifetime of study.  And yet, every conversation, every mention has its purpose in the evolution of a body of work.  Even that which seems so lacking in substance and depth, serves a purpose.  Pilates, like yoga, helps millions of people.  Pilates is here to stay.  And those of us who love it are here to make sure that it does in its beautiful and complex entirety.

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