7 Yoga Poses for Your Pilates Workout

Yoga and Pilates are distinct and complete disciplines, but they are also very compatible. Sometimes, dipping from one into the another can lend a fresh perspective to the way we approach an exercise or our yoga and Pilates workouts as a whole. Here, we have a set of 7 yoga poses that might offer new ways of deepening your Pilates practice.

This yoga sequence can be done on its own or combined with your Pilates routine. Try these yoga moves and see what you can discover about your Pilates practice by incorporating a little yoga from time to time.

Keep in mind that both yoga and Pilates are founded on working with the breath and an intention to integrate and elevate body, mind, and spirit. Learn more about Pilates and yoga ​in the Yoga Pilates Connection.


Mountain Pose, Arms Up

Mountain pose
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Begin with alert, active standing. Check your posture. Legs are parallel, hip distance apart, shoulders are relaxed. Abdominal muscles are engaged but not tight. Ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears are in a line. Gaze ahead.

Let your shoulder blades slide down your back as you sweep your arms out to the sides and bring them straight up overhead. The arms are parallel with palms facing each other.
Without lifting your shoulders, reach from your core through all the fingers, especially the pinkie.
Lift your chest and gaze upward.
Hold this pose 3 to 5 breaths
Use an inhale to lengthen your spine and return to upright. Return to basic standing.
Also, see urdhva hastasana in our yoga section.

Pilates notes: One of the best ways to start any workout, yoga or Pilates, is to begin by finding your balance and establishing a strong center. To begin standing is a good way to transition from daily movement into your workout. This is your moment to mark a beginning. Note that mountain, arms up incorporates the Pilates fundamental arms over and moves very nicely into wall roll down (with or without the wall).


Downward Facing Dog

Yoga downward facing dog pose
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Begin on all fours. Hands are shoulder-width apart, slightly in front of your shoulders.
Spread your fingers, with the middle finger pointing forward.
Rotate your upper arms outward slightly to open the chest.
Your knees are hip-distance apart.
Tuck your toes under and press through feet and your hands to lift your hips into the air.
Send energy down through your heels and out through your hands as your sit bones reach up and back.
Try to create space between your thighs and lower abdomen.
Your abdominal muscles are lightly pulled up and in, and your back is straight.
Hold this pose five breaths.
Also see adho mukha savasana.

Pilates notes: This is one of contemporary yoga's favorite poses. It strengthens and stretches, it puts some load-bearing on the shoulders and arms, and it increases circulation to upper body. Down dog, as this pose is often called, makes for an excellent transition exercise from floor to standing. Try moving into down dog as you do the walk out in Pilates push up. Your lower spine will probably be more curved at this point in the walk out, but you can pause to find down dog, linger and enjoy, then shift back into a Pilates walk-out into plank and on to Pilates push up (notice the similarities to yoga's chaturanga dandasana) . It can be very instructive to shift back and forth in this way.


Shoulder Stand

Shoulder stand yoga
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Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart.
Your arms are along your sides with the backs of the arms and shoulders pressing slightly into the mat to open the chest.
Inhale: Bring your knees up, deepening the crease at the hips.
Exhale: Engage your abdominal muscles and press into the floor with the backs of your arms and palms to extend your legs and bring them over your head, lifting your hips so that your legs are about 45 degrees off the floor behind you. Weight is on your shoulders and arms, not on your neck.
Bring your hands to the back of the hips to help support the spine.
Lengthen your neck - head away from shoulders, shoulder blades moving down the back.
Continue reaching your lower body upward, extending the hips and legs toward the ceiling. Do not sink into the shoulders and chest.
Hold five or more breaths.
Bring your legs back down over your face before you exhale to roll your spine down.
Also see sarvangasana.

Pilates notes: What the shoulder-stand gives us is a supported way to work with the inverted position in some of our Pilates exercises like jack knife and control balance. In Pilates, we usually move through this shape with arms alongside on the mat. Here, support from the hands can help you find the right place across your shoulders, not your neck, to distribute the weight as well as on the ​backs of the arms. Also, holding the supported shoulder stand will help you find the lift through the rib cage and out of the hips that you need to make Pilates shoulder stand-based exercises work.


Plow Pose

Halasana pose
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Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart.
Your arms are along your sides with the backs of the arms pressing slightly into the mat, opening the chest.
Inhale: Bring your knees up and deepen the crease at the hips.
Exhale: Press into the floor with the backs of your arms and palms. Extend your legs and bring them over your head. Continue the move, Lifting your hips so that your legs are about 45 degrees off the floor behind you. Weight is on your shoulders and arms, not on your neck.
Bring your hands to the back of the hips to help support the spine.
Inhale: Lengthen your neck - head away from shoulders, shoulder blades moving down the back.
Exhale: Take your legs to the floor behind you. Only go as far as you can without taking weight on your neck. Keep your legs as straight and together as possible.
Support this move by keeping the spine long; moving the thighs up, away from the abdomen and by using your abdominal muscles for support throughout.
Hold one to five minutes.
Exhale to roll the spine down onto the mat. Support the roll-down by pressing into the mat with the backs of your arms and palms and by using your abdominal muscles for control.
Also see halasana.

Pilates notes: You might recognize much of the Pilates roll-over and other Pilates exercises here. What you get out of staying at plow pose, the furthest point of the exercise, is the chance to really find the lift of the abdominal muscles that makes this a good back stretch and not a collapse of the weight into the spine and shoulders. Don't depend on the support of your hands, but use it to find lift, to adjust your leg position and to establish this point in your mind/body so you can hit is properly as you move through Pilates exercises. Some similar Pilates exercises on the mat and equipment do not take the feet all the way to the floor, overhead, for example, but the principles are the same.


Cross-Legged Twist

Cross-legged twist
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Sit tall on the floor cross-legged. You may want your hips raised slightly on a folded blanket.
Inhale and rotate your torso to the right. Your head stays in line with the torso. Your hips stay even.
As you turn, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee.
Your right arm extends directly out from the right shoulder. Let the right hand find the floor.
Hold for three to five breaths.
Inhale to lengthen your spine as you return to facing front.
Repeat on the other side.

Pilates notes: This simple twist offers a stable base and a lot of control as you use gentle traction to increase the twist of the torso. Use this exercise to establish your understanding of how your spine can spiral out of a stable pelvis in exercises like spine twist or the beginning of Pilates saw. Taking your time with a twist can help you figure out how to twist with your shoulders balanced and your head in line with your spine instead of ahead of the turn, which often happens as we move through spine twists.


Bridge Pose

Bridge pose
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Begin lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip distance apart.
Feel your spine lengthen along the floor as you draw your abdominal muscles in and up.
Inhale: Press through your feet to lift your hips directly up to where your shoulders, hips, and knees are on a diagonal line. You can press into a bigger arch from there if you make it a lengthening move, not a back crunch. Keep your legs parallel. Be sure that your weight rests on your shoulders, not on your neck.
Rotate your shoulders outward and bring your straight arms under you on the mat so that you can intertwine your fingers.
Hold three to five breaths.
Exhale to place your spine down on the mat, vertebrae by vertebrae.

Also see: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Pilates notes: We do a lot of forward-bending exercises in Pilates, so we have to pay attention to the opportunities we have for back extension exercises. Yoga bridge pose is similar to ​Pilates shoulder bridge, except that you can take the arc further if it feels good, and there is the extra opening of the shoulders as the arms come under and fingers entwine. Try this shoulder-opener occasionally as you do the Pilates bridge or need a back bend.


Corpse Pose

Savasana pose
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Lie on the floor with your legs straight and slightly apart.
Your arms are straight, a little bit away from your sides, palms up.
Move your shoulders down, away from your ears.
Relax your entire body, including your face and neck.
Bring your attention to your breath.
Continue to allow your body to relax and release into the floor.
Rest for 10 or more minutes.
Also see savasana.

Pilates notes: Deep relaxation after a workout honors the natural cycles of activity and rest that keep us, and the world we live in, balanced. This pose is consistently part of hatha yoga, but in Pilates, we sometimes just go directly back to our day, which is fine. But an occasional savasana is a wonderful way to integrate the work you have done in Pilates or yoga.

By the way, Jillian Hessel, a direct student of Pilates Elder Carola Trier, says that Carola made every student relax in lounge chairs after their Pilates workouts.

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.