Pilates: Supporting yoga practice through Pilates mat work

Much like yoga, Pilates is a practice that over the course of years of study can help you connect on a deeper levels to your body through movement.  The two disciplines can work together well for this reason.  Even though the two practices share some common foundations, there are differences in the use of the body and equipment.  Since they are complimentary, some targeted Pilates mat exercises can help enhance a student’s ability to engage in some of the more challenging yoga poses by building strength and increasing body awareness.

Try this foundational Pilates techniques to support yoga practice through cross-training different muscles groups and attentional mechanisms.

Also read Kara Wily’s sequence with suggestions for Pilates for snowboarders.


This exercise involved sitting with the legs in front of you and rolling the spine down and then back up one vertebra at a time.  This serves as a counter stretch to the way most yoga positions ask you to use your spine.  Instead of straightening the spine, this Pilates position curves the spine to stretch and open, while engaging the abdominal muscles.  The arms are held alongside the body with the shoulder blades pulled down as though you are sliding them toward your back pockets.

With each repetition, sit taller and lengthen the spine.  On on the roll, the fingertips and heels are reaching in opposition to the abdomen on the roll and the head, neck and spine stretch tall in opposition to the legs pressing down into the mat while sitting up.

This position is a cornerstone of much of the Pilates work and can help you with yoga poses including uttanasana (standing forward fold) and downward facing dog.  Because of its strong use of planting the hips to the mat and drawing the abdomen back, this exercise can assist when doing a similar action, but against gravity, in the yoga asanas.


Strengthen Yoga through Pilates Exercise

Photo of Kara Wily by Liz Carney

Extend your legs in front of you, slightly wider than the shoulders.  Keep the feet relaxed if you are strong and tight.  Flex the feet if you are building strength in the legs.  Sit tall with the hands extended in the air in front of the shoulders.  Inhale to stretch tall pulling the abdomen into the spine.  Engage the glutes and press the legs down into the floor.  

Pilates Spine Stretch

Photo of Kara Wily by Liz Carney

Exhale to roll the spine down to to the mat one vertebra at a time so you end up with your back in contact with the mat.

Pilates Mat Work for Strong Back Exercise

Photo of Kara Wily by Liz Carney

Inhale to roll up, stacking the vertebrae of the spine one on top of the other. 

Pilates exercises for Yoga Practice, Back Stretch

Photo of Kara Wily by Liz Carney

Repeat five times.