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Somatics: Yogas of the West

These practices can complement and strengthen your yoga, giving you new tools to integrate mind and body.

By Larry Sokoloff

Kathy Kain, a practitioner and advanced teacher in Berkeley, California, says that, like yoga, Ortho-Bionomy can help a person become aware of structural imbalances "and notice how they've adapted to stresses and strains." The nurturing sessions can also create a deep relaxation that allows the emotional component of chronic tightness to emerge and be released.


Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-tees) is a series of exercises designed to improve overall alignment, strengthen deep abdominal and back muscles, and encourage good posture. It's designed to create stronger overall bodies, but not bulk. Some exercises are performed on a floor mat, others on a variety of special Pilates machines. Because the movements must be precise, at first instructors work with clients in one-on-one sessions or in small classes, although students can later graduate to practicing alone.

The system was created by Joseph Pilates, a German physical fitness instructor. At the start of World War I, while imprisoned in a British detention camp for German nationals, Pilates taught other inmates. Later, he worked in a hospital where he further developed his work as both a rehabilitative tool and a general fitness regime. After he moved to New York in the 1920s, Pilates became popular with many dancers, who used his work to recuperate from injury and condition themselves, and who later became the second generation of Pilates teachers, adding their own insights.

Pilates work focuses on stabilizing the pelvis and developing strength in the two primary "control centers" of the body: the abdominal and midback muscles. Joseph Pilates practiced yoga before creating his discipline, and yoga's influences are evident. An exercise called "Upstretch" is similar to Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana); another called "Roll-Over" is similar to Plow (Halasana). Like yoga, Pilates emphasizes acute concentration and coordinates all movement with the breath.

"It's not necessarily a spiritual approach unless you bring that intention to it," says Jeanette Cosgrove, a certified Pilates instructor in Mountain View, California. But she also notes that, just as with yoga, someone practicing Pilates must keep their mind fully present, focusing on each movement, for the work to be effective.

Pilates can be especially valuable for yoga students who need to build more strength in the core of the body. Since Pilates is done smoothly and with relaxation, it may not seem like much of a workout at first. Cosgrove says its effects are subtle. Students might not be tired after a session, but later they will discover that their muscles feel deeply worked and released.

Larry Sokoloff is a freelance writer and student of Iyengar Yoga in Santa Clara, California.

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