Barre Yoga or Both? | Vanessa Michielon


Is it enough to just do Yoga? Vanessa Michielon shares 5 ways Barre improves your Yoga practice

When looking at the benefits of Yoga asana, a question often debated is whether Yoga is a complete physical practice.

My answer is yes, Yoga can be a wonderful way to address flexibility, balance, awareness and overall strength. Yet some components of fitness and key areas of the body tend to get neglected. 

If you are a devoted Yoga practitioner, and feel a little sceptical about cross-training, then keep reading! Barre could be exactly what you need to enhance your practice, maintain the balance in your body and help you prevent injuries. Research also shows that dance can improve neuroplasticity (more than repetitive physical exercise), meaning that Barre could also delay the brain’s ageing process!

What makes Barre unique?

Barre was Created in London by ballerina Lotte Berk back in the ‘50s. The method blends Ballet moves with core strengthening and muscle building exercises inspired by Pilates and resistance training. 

There are many variations for each movement and position, making this way of training versatile and generally safe for any age group and fitness level. With the right adjustments it is also be a great way to keep moving in pregnancy and through menopause (read more about how Yoga can support you through Menopause).

A signature feature of a Barre class is the infamous muscular “burn” caused by the frequent isometric holds. These are performed by maintaining the same position – for instance a wide second, a lunge or an arabesque – for a long period of time. From there we add in small concentrated pulsing motions that literally move you “up one inch and down one inch”. This type of contraction builds physical endurance (your muscles hit overload), and also mental resilience and concentration. 

As a result, at the end of the practice you feel empowered physically and mentally.

5 ways Barre improves your Yoga asana practice

1. Hamstrings and glutes strengthening: 

In Yoga the sequences are not specifically designed to target your glutes. A traditional Asana practice often leaves you working the front of your legs more than the back. This can lead to imbalances and ineffective patterns of movement. 

In a well rounded Barre class, glutes and hamstrings strengthening exercises are always included, bringing specific awareness to those areas.

Positions such as Pilates Bridges, Arabesque, pretzels or standing splits all effectively address the posterior chain of the body, while also creating length in the hips flexors area. Working the back body in this way also prepares you for safer backbends and more advanced asana. 

An effective exercise to activate lazy hamstrings:

Stand on one leg, place a small Pilates ball or cushion behind the other knee and squeeze the prop while moving the lifted leg in different directions. Minimise the movement in the hips and maintain the lifting of the lower abdominals. This is a powerful way to activate the back body, work on your mobility and prepare for Standing Dancer’s pose or King Pigeon.

2. Pulling actions: 

In a typical Vinyasa Ashtanga yoga practice the emphasis is placed more often on pushing rather than the pulling action of our shoulders. E.g. We press from Upward facing dog to Downward facing dog, or we press to hold a side plank, or balancing in handstand.

Although pulling actions are still present (we pull our body forwards in Cobra pose), it is usually more difficult to find enough load to work against for deep engagement of the ‘pull’ muscles. Sometimes Yoga studios employ socks, blankets, or various other props. This is to offer the opportunity to practice sliding drills and drawing-in patterns, all of which improve postural balance.

In contrast Barre sessions are deliberately designed to practice lots of pulling actions. In Barre we aim to strengthen even the most difficult muscles to target. 

A warm up exercise:

Hold a long elastic band in your hand, block the central part of the strap with one foot and step back with the other. With the strap secure, the arms are free to perform all sorts of pulling movements behind your back. This helps you strengthen your rhomboids (in-between your shoulder blades) and lats. You simultaneously lengthen your pectoral muscles and create space in-between your collarbones.

3. Weight shifting

Yoga styles that involve standing postures linked in a flow are wonderful at improving your balance. Barre challenges your balance even more! When you work at the barre, you rest your hands lightly on a steady surface. This gentle support helps you pay close attention to the alignment of your knees and toes. It also trains your body and brain to hit each position with precision. This trains your body so that when you are “in the centre” (away from the barre) you are more stable in your foundations and confident to shift your weight from one foot to the other. 

Barre consists of fast steps, repetitive movements, and accessible choreographed combinations. This means you can improve your balance and also enhance the quality of your Yoga poses and transitions.  After a few weeks of Barre training, I guarantee the transition from Warrior 2 to Half Moon will feel much easier!

Barre also invites you to move away from the framework of your mat. You move through the space in all directions with functional patterns. This style of movement helps you embrace daily activity more effortlessly and effectively (e.g. to reach for something up high or picking up a cat).

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4. Cardiovascular endurance 

In yoga, your cardiovascular endurance in not often challenged. Cardiovascular endurance means to keep your heart rate high for a sustained period of time through physical exertion.

Even with Dynamic Vinyasa or Power Yoga, movements are still relatively slow compared to running or rope skipping. The lungs and cardiovascular system are just not challenged in the same way. 

In Barre, although the pace of each Barre session can vary a lot across studios and methods, most Barre classes will incorporate small cardio bursts. For example after mastering a movement, you safely lift your heart rate with a sprint, and then slow down to recover. 

The great thing about Barre is that even if you are injured or simply don’t feel like activating your body, you always have a low impact version you can choose. This version will still improve your cardiovascular and respiratory capacity, and you will break a good sweat. Trust me! 

5. Musicality and timing

In yoga you can practise with or without music, and when it’s there it’s normally only in the background to create an atmosphere. The rhythm of your movements is usually steady and regular, but informed by your breath rather than the music.

In Barre, the music is a fundamental element. It adds motivation and supports you to push through the challenge of the last repetitions of each set. The music is also there to purposefully improve your musicality and “phrasing” of the movements. 

This means that you can progressively tune in with different rhythms and skillfully master accelerations, decelerations and suspensions. This transforms the quality of each movement from the start to the end. This attention to details is one of the secrets that makes dancers look so magnetic even when they perform the most simple gesture. Attention to detail can help you improve your coordination and timing, and is especially important when you are moving through more complex poses and transitions (e.g. jumping back to chaturanga, or landing in Warrior I from a handstand).

I hated my first class but today Barre is one of the steadiest pillars of my movement routine.

Vanessa Michielon
My journey

I have to confess, even having studied Ballet and Somatic Movement for many (many) years, the first time I stepped into a Barre studio I was pretty suspicious. In fact, I hated my first class! I remember the burning sensation in my muscles, the loud music pumping, and all the incredibly long lunge sets. It felt like a slap in my face.

But I gave it a second, third and fourth chance. In that fourth session something pretty phenomenal happened… I started to understanding and enjoy the class! In the middle of my next class, whilst holding a LONG held plank, I realised I was hooked. I left the room with a surprising boost of self-esteem.

Today Barre is one of the steadiest pillars of my movement routine (along with Pilates, Yoga and Contemporary Dance) and I can see it staying for many years to come.

If you are not a fitness fan or you feel intimidated by the idea of learning choreographies and lifting weights, it is normal to feel apprehensive. With so many styles and teachers, have faith that you will find the approach that works best for you. 

Vanessa Michielon is a Movement specialist and founder of the Transformative Movement method, empowering people of all walks of life to embrace Yoga, Pilates and Dance in order to improve physical health and achieve a balanced state of mind.

Vanessa believes that embodied movement can truly transform our life and wishes to help others find joy and purpose in their practice. Connect with Vanessa on Instagram

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Practice Barre Yoga and Pilates with Vanessa on Movement for Modern Life

Barre Workout: Strength, Core, and Posture

Pilates for Strength: Strong Spine in Spirals

Grounding Stress Relief Flow

Barre with Amy Holly on MFML


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