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Crossing That Bridge
Between Yoga and Pilates There's a Bridge... Pose

bridge pose

Although people often lump Pilates and Yoga into the same mind-body mix, there's a world of difference between the two. Yoga's Eastern-based approach takes into account the overall health of the body, while Western-founded Pilates focuses most of its attention and strength-building on the core muscle group (the back, abs and hips). Never are the differences more apparent than when the two disciplines share a pose. Take Bridge, for example. The Pilates Bridge and the Yoga Bridge both require you to lay on your back, put your feet flat on the floor and raise your rear end off the ground. The move promotes back health and tones your glute and hamstring muscles (the butt and back of the legs in plain language). And that's about where the similarities end. Examining each version of the pose in depth will help illustrate the inherent differences between Pilates and Yoga.

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In Yoga, Bridge has both an English and a Sanskrit name; the latter is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana ("setu" actually means bridge, "bandha" means "to lock" and "sarvanga" means "all limbs"). In addition to the muscular and spinal benefits, Yoga's Bridge also nourishes your pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, along with energizing most of the organs in your abdomen. It's one of the most basic Yoga poses, but it varies a little in the various Yoga styles (yes, even apart from Pilates there are variations). The most obvious difference is the position of the arms and hands. With some versions, you clasp the hands under your back; with others you support the back with your hands. At the beginning stages of the pose, when you can just barely get your rear end off the ground, you're invited to merely leave your hands, palm down, by your side. If you are really having trouble getting off the ground, you can place a block underneath you. For the most part, Yoga's Bridge encourages the development of the arch of your back, making it more flexible (also, the more you are able to arch your back, the more likely you are to stimulate your thyroid gland, which is located in your neck). In the extended (more advanced) version of Bridge, you walk your legs out so that they are straight, keeping your buttocks lifted the whole time. Extended Bridge is a challenging pose, and most beginning and advanced beginning Yoga classes stick to the classic, legs-bent version.

Like Yoga, different Pilates styles have slightly different approaches to Bridge (various instructors and industry leaders have made modifications over the years in the way they teach Pilates). Whereas most Yoga teachers will have you raise and lower your torso "one vertebrae at a time," some Pilates instructors will have you raise up as if your torso is one long, straight piece - like raising a plank instead of a chain. Pilates makes no claims when it comes to benefits to your endocrine system. In fact, this exercise style is concerned with your core first and foremost, and this Bridge is a reflection of that. With the Pilates Bridge, you do not arch your back and you are careful to stay on your shoulder blades - you should not feel any strain on your neck whatsoever. To help build the core, many Pilates instructors will have you perform a series of leg raises, either with the leg bent, or lifting the bent knee, then straightening it, lowering it, lifting it and then bending it again to lower it (an effective, but difficult move!). The attitude of Pilates is very much mentally focused - your moves must be precise, and to do that you must be very aware. However, the emotions and spirit do not come into play. In Yoga they do. Certainly a Pilates class may frustrate you now and again, but it doesn't hit you in the gut (abs aside) the way Yoga can.

There are a couple of areas in which the form is the same for both disciplines - your thighs must be parallel, about hip distance apart, with your knees in line with your ankles. This is extremely important because otherwise you could injure your knees. Your hips, back and ankles would also not appreciate splayed legs. (This is why it's always good to take a class in person every now and again - a teacher can check your form; a video instructor can't.) If you practice both Yoga and Pilates, you will feel the differences in their versions of Bridge right away - the Pilates alignment and the Yoga whole-souled approach. And both styles are worthy. Whether you prefer one or the other depends on the nature of your search.

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