The Power of Three – Why You Should Mix Yoga, Pilates & Tai Chi
There are three main Branches of the Holistic Trinity as I like to call it. Chances are you’ve heard of one – if not all of them. Every day millions of people practise Yoga, Pilates, & Tai Chi – Seldom all Three. Here are the main differences and why you should embrace their practises collectively.
I was once told that there are as many types of Yoga as there are People on Earth; whilst there are many different styles, I’ve boiled it down to 4 primary approaches the physical practise takes:-
Slow Yoga (Slowga?!)
The slower styles allow you to learn what the heck you’re doing! These classes tend to be fantastic for beginners and Intermediates alike – whether in a slow flow or a static posture; teachers have more space to guide you through each asana (pose).
These classes are generally for the workout and the SWEAT! Classes are geared more towards the athletic side of things as they cycle through series of poses. Beginners may struggle more here as the faster pace can be difficult to keep up with without a pre-existing foundation to work from.
Restorative classes develop a deeper understanding of oneself – body & mind! Breath focus is more pronounced here; as students are encouraged to internalise their practise more whilst holding asanas for longer periods of time. Most classes generally focus on passive stretching, extended Pranayama (Breath Practises) and of course a good ol’ OM/AUM. These classes often focus on the more spiritual aspect of Yoga practise.
These classes are for the more energetic, well-practised, insta-hungry students. With a solid foundation of experience, strength and flexibility, these classes work on “the flashy stuff” that pops up on your feed. Think Crow is tough? Try this One-Arm-Handstand-With-Your-Eyes-Closed Variation! Okay that might be pushing it – but there are some truly fantastic opportunities to explore with a teacher who knows their stuff.
*BONUS* – WEIRD Yoga
Beer Yoga. Goat Yoga. Naked Yoga…Need I Say More?
Whilst the focus may differ between approaches, Yoga is based on Poses or “asanas”. Breath is taken through the nose; the inhale mostly being used to open and lengthen the body – creating space, the exhale is mostly used when closing/deepening/grounding. It can also be a point of focus for meditation or a practise in itself as there are numerous Breathing Exercises one may work on with Yoga. Of the three, Yoga has the most emphasis on FLEXIBILITY.
A much younger approach to exercise and wellbeing than it’s Indian & Asian Counterparts. Western in Origin & founded by Joseph Pilates; This approach was initially created to rehabilitate people with special considerations such as injuries or conditions – famously many ballerinas within New York.
Depending on who you ask there are NINE Principles to the Pilates method of Contrology:
- Postural Alignment
Whilst every class with every teacher is different, there are pretty much 3 ways of doing it:
Based on the pure, original sequence of 34 Exercises developed by Joseph Pilates himself. In any good class, exercises can be modified depending on ability level (many of them are pretty tough!) however the sequence stays the same. The repetition of exercises allows students, in their familiarity with the work, more awareness and focus on the principles listed above. This also ensures a balanced practise engaging the whole body through controlled movements – often with the use of some equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in Vlad the Impalers Basement.
Most Pilates nowadays blend the traditional exercises, with other conditioning methods found in a multitude of fitness approaches. Using props to add extra elements of challenge such as resistance and stability. Class structure varies widely – whilst many classes are balanced in approach, teachers have the autonomy to focus on specific ares if they wish so don’t be surprised to have an entire class focused on standing exercises, or lower body flexibility training for example.
In Pilates – the method is everything. Whether performing a Monkey Squat, challenging roll up or a simple Posture Alignment; without applying the principles it’s just normal exercise! Many classes focus more on creating a fun, tough workout than adhering to all of the “rules”, instead taking inspiration from the method and sequence to create something new.
Pilates is most well known for its breathing techniques, core & pelvic floor engagement, and emphasis on CONTROL through each exercise. And again whilst every class is different; Pilates has the greatest emphasis on STRENGTH out of the three – particularly Core Strength.
Based on the Ancient Philosophy of Yin & Yang – Tai Chi is an internal Chinese Martial Art known for its Defence Training, Health Benefits and Moving Meditation. It often focuses on precise, whole body movements and control of the body internal energy or “Qi” (pronounced “Chee”). There are 5 traditional styles of Tai Chi:-
- Chen Style
- Yang Style
- Wu Hao Style
- Wu Style
- Sun Style
Each of them have their own approach but all draw from the original Chen style. Here are a few differences between classes you may encounter here in the West.
Health Focused Tai Chi
The Chen and Yang styles are the most popular form of Tai Chi practised Worldwide. Most classes focus on learning and developing sequences of whole body movements linked together in order such as the famous 24 Form. This approach to Tai Chi is suitable for people from all walks of life from the frail to the athletic as quality of movement and internal connection is encouraged more than physical exertion.
Martial Arts Application
Tai Chi at its core is a martial art. It teaches how to control an opponents energy force based on their attack or recoil. Some classes focus more on this aspect and even pair students up to practise movements together. The fundamentals are the same, but the practical application has more presence here.
Meditation Focused Tai Chi
Some Tai Chi approaches are much more subtle in their physical movements and instead focus largely on the internal energy control of the practitioner. This style of practise can also link with the Health Focus as it’s an excellent choice for the elderly and the frail with classes such as Chair Tai Chi with the smaller movements being simpler than other styles.
Tai Chi is widely known for its beautiful movements and Yin/Yang Philosophy. Each inhale is used to gather the body’s “Qi”, each exhale to deliver it. Of the three holistic approaches Tai Chi generally has the strongest meditative focus and is widely the most physically suitable for people from all backgrounds.
In terms of the physical practises; Yoga is about postures, Pilates is about exercises & core work, Tai Chi is about flowing movements. Breath in Yoga is used to open and close the body, in Pilates it’s used to maintain posture and activate the core, in Tai Chi it’s used to collect and deliver ones energy.
Traditionally, students of one style have different ability levels to students of another. People who practise Yoga tend to be more flexible, Pilates practitioners tend to have better core strength and Tai Chi students have the best level of concentration and attention to detail in practise. When we draw upon all three styles in our practise, we are harnessing the strengths of each for the best effect and benefit for our bodies. Importantly all three have a different Origin, History, Culture etc and being open to them all allows us as individuals to be more mindful, aware and open in general.
ODYSSEY was created to bring us together in our practise – whatever our background. It introduces new styles and approaches as well as a different perspective on any existing practise we have.
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