This is a question I am asked a lot by people who come to see me. They ask which one would best suit their back. Is it better to do yoga or pilates? Well I think it does not matter, my answer is; do the one you enjoy doing. There is no point doing any exercise unless you enjoy it! Both of them will be beneficial, but you are more likely to continue doing it if you enjoy it.
The one thing I would like to say, and this is very important, is that you don’t have to do either to prevent back pain. I feel it is a common misconception that our backs are inherently weak and we need to do specific exercises to strengthen them up. Both of these exercise programmes are very good at improving flexibility, relaxing muscles that are prone to over-activity, improving core control and are a good general workout, but you don’t have to do them to improve back pain.
As I have said in previous blogs, pain is not always mechanical; in fact, it often is not. Pain is usually caused by the brain and the nervous system, but then unfortunately gets attributed to something mechanical, like prolasped discs or osteoarthritis. We then think that there must be a weakness in the back and seek activities that help to strengthen the back, like Pilates. The problem is if you tell yourself that you need to do Pilates to strengthen your weak back, you will continue to reinforce that your back is weak. By doing this, it may actually make pain worse and cause the muscles in the back to tighten up even more, because they respond to your thought processes.
My advice would be to carry on doing yoga or pilates if you enjoy it, but don’t tell yourself you need to do this for your back. Do it for you, for the health benefits it will bring you and not because your back is weak. You can also work your core muscles by doing lots of other types of exercise like swimming, running, cycling, tennis and pretty much any fairly vigorous activity.
Personally, out of the two, I go for yoga, because I find it is more relaxing. I feel it works in a similar way to meditation and gives you a physical and mental work out and helps you to switch off!
Happy exercising whatever you decide to do!