Yoga, Pilates and the Parasympathetic Sympathetic nervous system

Breathe and see where it takes you…………

Charlotte Purvis is one of the foremost authorities within the health fitness and active leisure industry. Charlotte has advised on the technical expert group for the uk and Europe in health, fitness and active leisure both advising the industry along with writing and implementing standards and assisting in regulating the industry.

Charlotte is very approachable and has an extensive knowledge within her field of expertise. She is an astute business woman and her interests lie in health, fitness and active leisure along with Charlotte’s other interests in building multiple apps for other industries.Charlotte owns and manages, Careers in Fitness Global, A leading health and fitness and active leisure education provider with over 64 qualifications on their digital platform that is able to provide flexible ‘on-the-go’ learning. Courses can be undertaken on your phone, I-pad or desktop allowing learning to be achieved from home, work or whilst out and about in the park, shopping mall or wherever life takes you. New training concepts can be accessed instantly on your phone between clients via interactive forums.

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Lots of people ask me……..

Charlotte, what is the difference between yoga and Pilates? Which one should I study or which one should I practice?
People also ask me about the breathing in Yoga and Pilates.

I was in fact involved in regulating Yoga within the UK and wrote the world first ever standards in Pilates.

Personally I am aware there are many schools of thought with the original Joseph Pilates Contrology and the 34 original poses and the ancient forms of yoga.

Today with Pilates and Yoga we have somewhat adapted some of the methods from the past. Hopefully mostly still incorporating the original forms. From the original forms most teachers and students practice lateral thoracic breathing with Pilates and with yoga its moving the breathe through the body and into the tummy area. Which is explained in more depth later in this article.
There are however many differences between Yoga and Pilates and some teachers now mix the two within a class. Shall we say like a hybrid class!

I like to think of Pilates in mobilising joints, strengthening the muscles and Pilates activating the core, using the breathe along with training the muscles to fire up correctly using lateral thoracic breathing, core activation and exercises originally coming from the 34 Joseph Pilates method.

Yoga started its journey as an ancient Indian science of exercise and healing, from teacher to student through oral tradition and physical practice.
Yoga is also known as one of the oldest holistic health care systems, not just because of its fundamental healing approach, but also because of its many health benefits for mental , physical and spiritual wellbeing.

I like to think of breathe, meditation and asanas coming from many years of yoga practice. Again mobilising joints and working on the breathe bringing balance within the body.
Ujjayi breath is a breathing technique used in yoga practices. It is usually used as a breath with asanas a diagphramatic breath that activates the first and second chakras fills the lower belly and rises to the lower rib cage, third and fourth chakra and finally upper chest and throat. Equally controlled breath inand out through the nose.
Pranayama techniques with the long and smooth exhale, this is beneficial in supporting the parasympathetic nervous system and activates the relaxation response. This reduces stress and the affects of stress on the mind and body. One becomes focussed, strong and able to rise to a challenge and deal with difficult situations as they arise. Amazing benefits come from yoga practice.
I really could write about these two qualifications Pilates and Yoga all of the time. We have classical Pilates, Reformer, Mat based Pilates etc. We have in yoga Chakras, Kundalini, Yiga, hot yoga, restorative yoga, yoga hybrids, prenatal yoga and more.
Watch out for more articles from me on our blogs on the Careers in Fitness Global app on yoga and Pilates cortisol and PNS and SNS.
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The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are a part of the nervous system. They act to maintain a state of homeostasis in the body. To enable one to understand the various responses and effects of the two systems, we need to understand where these two systems originate from.

The CNS Central nervous system ( brain, spinal cord) The PNS Peripheral nervous system divided is somatic and autonomic system. The autonomic nervous system is divided into the Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
One of the parts of the PNS is the SNS. The SNS originates in the vertebral column commencing in the first thoracic segment of the spinal cord extending up to the second or third lumbar segments. The SNS function is to mobilise the bodies response when a stressful situation arises. It initialises the Fight or flight response within the body. The SNS system organs within the body such as lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, the eyes and heart. It causes an increase in the the heart rate and in the rate of secretions. The secretion of renin from the kidneys is increased. Also stimulates release of glucose from the liver. This is released into the blood so available for the body to use.
With stress say someone annoys you, your upset about something, angry etc then the SNS activates and the heart rate will increase, the blood will move away from digestion and to the extremities. The adrenal glands are stimulated then hormones produced norepinephrine and epinephrine. This is not good for the body, weight management and you will notice your breathing changes. This is when you need to focus on slow controlled deep breathing.

Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is a division of the autonomic nervous system. This is a part of the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ phase of the body. The nerves of this system send fibers to cardiac muscles, smooth muscles, and to the glandular tissue. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for bringing about an increase in salivation, tear production, urination, digestion, and defecation. The basic parasympathetic system involves functions and actions that do not require an immediate reaction in the surrounding.
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) work together to help you cope with and respond to daily life. For many people, daily life brings stressthat activate the SNS. Loud noises, frustrating thoughtsIf your SNS constantly jumps into action throughout the day, your daily experiences will tend to create an imbalance. By activating the PNS with yoga breathing you can bring balance.
Many yoga practices including gentle breath-based vinyasa and slow, diaphragmatic breathing which activates the PNS, Parasympathetic activation is the base state of the body, brain and mind. PNS activation reduces blood pressure and slows the heart and breathing rates after a stressful event. Additionally, blood flow is redirected to the digestive and reproductive organs, and the endocrine and lymphatic system. People who practice yoga thus learn to be aware of and respond differently to stress-inducing thoughts and experiences so that the baseline of the PNS can be maintained.

A balanced yoga practice often begins with sun salutations and closes with savasana or meditation. Because yoga includes both sympathetic and parasympathetic activation you create a balance.
Meditation and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Meditation activates the PNS in several different ways. By stimulating the PNS though meditation it elevates mood, decreases cortisol, strengthens the immune system and increases physical and psychological well-being.
Yoga strengthen the PNS and minimises the body’s tendency of activation of SNS. Yoga reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The PNS works to bring balance.


While often overlooked, the role of the nervous system in recovery is paramount.
Activating the PNS will also aid in recovery.
Therefore what we learn with our practice we can aid when in a state of fight or flight the Sympathetic nervous system SNS is activated. To bring calm to the body we activate the PNS using the breathe and our practices along with our learning we can improve on activating the Parasympathetic nervous system PNS and ensure a better state of mind, a healthier body and bringing about calm, balance and both pysical and mental wellbeing.

I have to say I like both Pilates and Yoga in my life.