Yoga stems from the traditional physical and mental disciplines originating in India. Major branches of yoga include Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. Raja Yoga, compiled in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and known simply as yoga in the context of Hindu philosophy, is part of the Samkhya tradition. Many other Hindu texts discuss aspects of yoga, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita and various Tantras.
The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings. Derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, union. Outside India, the term yoga is typically associated with Hatha Yoga, and asanas (postures) or as a form of exercise. Most yoga classes are rooted in the physical discipline to develop control of the body, there are a variety of styles with which to accomplish this goal. I tend to teach a flowing style of Hatha Yoga, called Vinyasa which flows from pose to pose with one breath and one movement.
For more on Living Yoga (see blog, http://graceyoga-live-move-breathe.blogspot.com/2009/08/living-yoga.html)
What is Pilates?
Pilates was developed during WWI by Joseph Pilates to improve the rehabilitation program for returning injured veterans by recommending a few, precise movements which emphasized control and form to in regaining their health by strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing key muscles. He Pilates created "The Pilates Principles" to condition the entire body: proper alignment, centering, concentration, control, precision, breathing, and flowing movement.
Pilates called his method Contrology, because he believed his method uses the mind to control the muscles. The program focuses on the core postural muscles which help keep the body balanced and which are essential to providing support for the spine. In particular, Pilates exercises teach awareness of breath and alignment of the spine, and aim to strengthen the deep torso muscles.
Should I do both?
I believe Pilates and Yoga are a beautiful compliment to each other. The order of exercises or the method of Pilates has a purpose of creating a muscle memory in the body. The same is true when you do Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) or another Kriya (moving meditations) in yoga. When done with proper alignment and form, the body creates an engram (muscle memory) of it and then you have the possibility to progress or give yourself permission not to.
For me, it all comes down to movement. There are some days where I should just move (or dance as Puja, a mentor of mine, would say-- without fear of incorrect form and with total freedom in the body) and there are other days where the art of practicing a sequence creates something beautiful within me. Just moving. Simply moving.
What are the benefits?
Yoga has proven to reduce stress and increase relaxation. It provides great exercise by strengthening muscles and improving flexibility, balance, and posture. It is an exemplary way to protect health as we age.
"Exercise whenever you can and look forward to it. Practice moderate yoga on a regular basis. Breath fresh air and think positive thoughts... become the light."-- Doug Sweenson
While I would love to see everyone do some kind of yoga (karma, meditation, pranayama, asana...) or movement (Pilates) everyday, it's not necessarily realistic for everyone to do a physical practice daily. I think it's important to stay active, no matter what you do. If you do what you love, you will keep doing it and find ways to do it. How often do we sit in front of the TV (OK, besides me- I watch maybe 2 hours a week at the most) or check our email (that one gets me... way too many hours!)? What we could do with that time! Find what you love, and just do it regularly. Everything in moderation-- and for joy!
Why do I practice?
Reflecting on why I practice yoga: What is it that draws me to it so much? How it makes my body feel (I'm the strongest, most flexible, and more knowledgeable about my body that I've ever been in my life.), I think was my initial reason. But, now years later, I think it's the acceptance, grace and awareness that it's created in me. I fail continually -- on and off the mat but what I keep going back to is not the amazing physical benefits but that there is something beyond myself- that everyone is same. We all have the same doubts, fears, struggles, odd family members and life road bumps. Hardships do not discriminate. However, there is the Divine (God) in everyone- and that if I don't see it in them and act as though I do, then, I am not seeing God at all.
John Friend (founder of Anusara Yoga) asks in his workshops, "what offering we could make with our practice?"
To find stillness within movement.
Grace when a pose is not aligned or "perfected".
Humility when a pose appears to be done well.
To breathe in awareness of my body and what the expression of the pose is telling me (do I have soreness in my shoulder from pushing too hard or are my hips resisting a posture becauseI am going beyond my edge or am I holding back an emotion that just needs to be released)
Forgiveness- letting go of my critical nature- the internal chatter that says I'm not... good enough, thin enough, strong enough, that I'm not authentic or real, or that I'm too judgmental of others or myself.... (Fill in the blank here; I've thought it all).
Acceptance in what I can do in the moment.