I practice and teach barre several times a week and strive to include yoga in my weekly routine. I have been practising yoga for 15 years and hope to eventually complete my yoga training because the two disciplines complement each other beautifully.
Barre and yoga are enormously popular as low-impact disciplines which both champion inclusiveness, are suitable for all ages and fitness levels, and support an approach of overall holistic wellness rather than simply hitting fitness goals. They are also brilliant disciplines for pre-and post-natal women as they can be adapted easily, and focus on full-body strength.
They are both considered soft disciplines which relate to the ‘ability to manage yourself with the intent of achieving a goal’ - whether that be improved health, flexibility, strength, endurance or as specific as mastering a particular posture.
Let’s start with the similarities. Yoga and barre are gentle on the joints and they can mostly be carried out anywhere where there is room to lay a mat and are popular home workouts for this reason as there is generally no requirement for fancy shoes or equipment (though some props can be used in certain classes).
The disciplines are also both favoured by athletes as complementary practices alongside their training, as their shared benefits of increased flexibility, balance, posture and muscle strengthening all help to both prevent injury, and aid in rehabilitation from competition, or injuries. In fact, barre was initially created as a rehabilitation programme for injured dancers. It focuses on strengthening the muscles, especially those surrounding your joints, which is why it is so helpful as a tool for injury prevention. As well as strengthening, it also includes stretching and is all done at a cardio pace, getting the heart rate right up and working the entire body. For me, barre is the perfect ‘one-stop-shop’. I love the efficiency of it, especially as a busy mum of three.
The way that barre works your muscles means it continues positively affecting the body long after the class has finished. This is done through the building of lean muscle which revs up your metabolism, and a focus on endurance movements, which help achieve a higher level of stamina for everyday life.
Barre sometimes incorporates props, which are usually lower weight meaning there is little chance of injury. The focus is on compound movements and using many muscles at once. These movements are centred around repetition and keeping excellent technique rather than heavy lifting, and are set to music to aid coordination and mental focus - and to make it fun!
As with yoga, many barre moves focus on balance – often on one leg, which challenges balance as well as strengthens stabilising muscles and increases bone density, and barre also shares similar stretching elements to yoga, to help develop long and lean dancer-like muscles.
Another long-term benefit of both yoga and barre is that they strengthen and improve posture. Barre focuses on strengthening the entire body, including the deep muscles in your abdomen, pelvis and back. These muscles attribute to your posture and working them in a long lengthening way will help to improve your posture. In addition, both yoga and barre focus on developing proper alignment in the body, targeting core muscles, and working them while also lengthening them.
In terms of differences, anyone who has taken a yoga class will know that the movements are initiated or led by the breath. Sessions often begin and end with specific breathing exercises, allowing the individual to spend some time focusing on this act which we do all day every day, usually without thought.
We are often unaware that throughout the day, and in times of stress or anxiety, our breath can become shallow, having an impact on our bodies. In fact, breath work as a separate, focused discipline is gaining a lot of traction in recent years. Practising deep breathing during yoga can train you to use your breath more effectively throughout the day, which has both physical and physiological benefits.
You will also find that yoga incorporates a spiritual component and meditation into their sessions, which often end with savasana – simply lying down on your back and relaxing your body and mind, allowing you to find a moment of calm and stillness, offering a beautiful time to reflect and reset before you continue with your day.
For me, the best element of barre and yoga is that they can never be completed or conquered. They will always challenge you to see what else your body can achieve and there is always scope to push a little harder, meaning you can continue improving for decades!
I highly recommend both practices to anyone looking for a mood-inducing hour, and I promise that the endless both body and mind benefits will keep them coming back.