Pilates and yoga are often mentioned in the same breath, but what is the difference between them? Both practices are considered forms of mind-body exercise, but they are also both helpful for stress management, mental health, physical health, breath control, and improved focus.
Still, ask any certified yoga instructor or certified Pilates instructor, and they’ll say that the two practices couldn’t be further apart. The term yoga is a very general term. It could be compared to someone saying they are "going to the gym" without telling someone what type of workout they plan to do.
This is because there are many types of yoga practices with some being very diverse from others. The type of practice someone chooses will depend on what their goals are as well as their current personal state or condition.
On the other hand, Pilates is a specific type of workout that uses similar physical postures, exercises, and breath control. The physical benefits between the classes are similar. The difference between the workouts is that they can be tailored to a certain skill level or they can utilize different types of equipment.
Ahead, we’ll delve into both the similarities and differences between Pilates and yoga — two of the most beneficial forms of mind-body exercise.
What is Pilates?
Pilates or “the Pilates method” was developed in the 1920s by a man named Joseph Pilates, originally from Germany. Joseph endured many illnesses as a child, including rheumatic fever, asthma, and rickets. As a result, he became enchanted by the idea of improving his strength and endurance later in life. Physical fitness became his passion, and he became a physical trainer.
Through the idea of balancing the mind, body, and spirit together — similar to the way the ancient Greeks revered the "ideal man” — Joseph created his Pilates method. His practice included approximately 500 exercises, most of which were inspired by some form of ballet, yoga, or calisthenics.
Pilates is both an aerobic and a non-aerobic practice. What’s consistent is the focus on the core muscles, which are required for almost all of the movements. Additionally, each technical exercise has a specific breathing technique and rhythmic pattern that is followed. Correct form is crucial when it comes to practicing Pilates.
There are a variety of Pilates classes, but there are no different “types” of Pilates (as is the case with yoga). Instead, most classes are divided according to the core goal (flexibility, strength-training, better posture, stress-reduction, improved balance, etc.) or according to experience level (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc.).
Pilates focuses on and offers numerous benefits, including:
Improved allover muscle tone
Excess weight loss
Improved cardiovascular health
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient holistic practice, which began in India. The practice involves moving the body physically, focusing the mind mentally, and tapping into a spiritual mindfulness practice in the process. The ultimate goal of yoga is to connect the mind and body. However, a range of wonderful benefits can be gained from the practice, including:
Improved muscle strength and tone
A better mind-body connection
Excess weight loss
Improved heart health
Better overall mental health
Improved energy levels
A more efficient metabolism
The word yoga is Sanskrit and means “yoke,” which is often further translated to signify “unity” as a yoke is something that links together with an animal with a plow or cart. Like this type of yoke, yoga is meant to unify the practitioner with the divine. It is also meant to connect or bring harmony to the body and the mind.
How old is yoga? No one can say for sure. Experts, however, say that the practice began about 5,000 years ago1 with the dawn of civilization in the Indus Valley — in around 2700 B.C.E. Modern-day yoga, however, may be quite different from ancient yoga and has surely changed and evolved over the centuries.
If considering a yoga practice, there are many styles to choose from. Here are just a few of the most popular styles.
Ashtanga yoga flows with the breath. It is faster than other types of yoga, and many people describe it as "athletic." As opposed to still poses, individual’s are engaging in a flow or series of movements and breathing techniques. Due to the focus of this type of practice, it is not appropriate for individuals with physical limitations such as chronic back pain as it may exacerbate the issue.
Hatha yoga includes many different types of yoga. One type is Iyengar yoga, which uses props to teach the precision of alignment within each posture. Through Hatha yoga, one can increase flexibility and strength. Unlike more meditative types of yoga, it is quite dynamic and active. If looking for pain relief, then a hatha yoga style called gentle yoga sequence could be an excellent choice.
Yin yoga tends to be done in the seated position and is much slower-paced than other forms of yoga. The goal is to target the deep tissues of the whole body as opposed to targeting muscles. Poses are held for much longer as well (up to five minutes for advanced practitioners). Yin yoga is excellent for those who want to improve the mobility of their joints, reduce stress, and increase circulation. Yin Yoga is not to be mixed up with restorative yoga. They are similar but still different.
Vinyasa yoga is another one of the most popular types of yoga. It connects movement with the breath and is a notably graceful practice while also being energizing and revitalizing. Vinyasa yoga may be done in seated, standing, or supine positions and includes several balancing and twisting positions. Among these are numerous exercises that target and strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Restorative yoga focuses mainly on relaxation. This is accomplished through deep breathing, slow movements, and long holds. It is similar to yin yoga, but its goal is to allow the body to recover. This type of practice is appropriate for everyone, from beginners to experts of all ages.
How are Pilates and Yoga the Same and Different?
Pilates and yoga are quite similar in numerous ways and share many benefits. For one thing, both practices focus on connecting the mind with the body. Yoga tends to have a spiritual component, whereas Pilates is often seen as the more athletic of the two practices; however, it still emphasizes the breath and maintaining deep focus. One couldn’t say the same about other “athletic” endeavors such as basketball or traditional weight training.
The physical practice of yoga and Pilates share commonalities as well such as strengthening the core muscles along with other mental physical health benefits.
Moreover, both are essentially mat classes, meaning simply that they’re practiced on a mat most of the time (although other equipment can also be used by Pilates students). Likewise, both yoga and Pilates can be practiced anywhere — from a studio or the park to the beach or a living room. This is possible due to the minimal equipment required for both types of workouts along with the option to practice either in person or virtually.
The biggest difference between the two is the focus of each type of workout. Both workouts will improve mobility and overall fitness through mat work, but Pilates focuses on strengthening while yoga works on lengthening.
Pilates can be quite complex and expensive depending on the workout. This makes it more common for individual’s to take private lessons compared to yoga.
It can also be greatly adapted or modified making. This means it is appropriate for individuals who may be at increased risk of injury or thosing in special populations as mat Pilates puts individuals at low risk for injury.
Other Similarities Between Pilates and Yoga Include Common Focuses on:
There are some distinct differences between yoga and Pilates as well. The main difference is that Pilates does not have different sub-forms. There are only different difficulty levels. Yoga, on the other hand, comes in many forms.
Additionally, the ultimate goal of yoga and Pilates is different. Yoga is certainly more meditative and focuses more on what’s going on in one’s mind. While Pilates emphasizes the mind-body connection as well, it’s more focused on physicality, muscle flexibility and strength, and nailing each pose and movement as precisely as possible.
Pilates and Yoga Equipment
It’s important to mention that the equipment used in each is quite different as well.
First, there is not a lot of equipment necessary for the majority of yoga classes. All that is needed is a yoga mat. Some classes may also ask for individual’s to have additional accessories or props. Some of these, such as yoga blocks, can be handy for beginners especially as they can aid in holding poses that would be too difficult to do without support.
Other accessories include bolsters of various sizes, yoga straps, blankets, and yoga wheels.
Pilates equipment, on the other hand, is more integral to the practice itself. Referred to as “the apparatus" by Joseph Pilates, the main Pilates machine used in the practice can look bizarre at first. Essentially, it is a machine that integrates various forms of resistance (by using the practitioner's body weight, leverage, and springs) to carry out Pilates exercises and target unique muscles.
It is the machine called a Pilates reformer or a universal reformer, and it was invented by Joseph Pilates himself. Interestingly enough, he created his first reformer out of machinery springs and a bed!
In a complete studio, a Pilates reformer, as well as several other pieces of equipment, can be found. This include:
Pilates bands (resistance bands)
Pilates vs Yoga for Seniors
Which is better for seniors?
Both can benefit seniors. When deciding between the two, however, there are some considerations to make before deciding. Namely: What is the goal? And: Where are is the individual starting from, physically?
If the goal is to strengthen the muscles, Pilates for seniors might be a good place to start as it places more emphasis on muscle-building and muscle groups. Remember that as an individual gets older, muscle loss is an increasingly common problem — as is arthritis — so Pilates can be a great way to keep both muscles and bones strong and pain-free.
If someone wants to increase flexibility, yoga is the answer, especially restorative yoga. Stiffness is a common problem in senior citizens who don’t get a lot of physical activity. Furthermore, staying seated for most of the day can cause stiffness and shorten muscles. Improving flexibility through yoga is a wonderful solution.
If the goal is to lose weight, Pilates may be the answer as it will help burn more calories. At the same time, yoga can help burn calories too. To achieve this, choose a yoga class that offers more physically demanding poses and movements. Discuss this with a yoga teacher during an initial session to ensure the appropriate classes are selected.
If the goal is to just get moving and previously the individual has not been very active, try yoga. A beginner’s class will include soft stretches and simple yoga poses at the start. Props can also be used to help ease the body in and out of each position more fluidly.
Yoga and Pilates: Frequently Asked Questions
Does Pilates Come From Yoga?
Some of the movements that Joseph Pilates developed can be traced back to yoga asanas (poses) where yoga more is a meditation practice.
Is Yoga or Pilates Better?
There is no simple answer to this question. Yoga and Pilates are quite similar, yet they both come in different forms. It is best to choose according to what the goals are.
Those seeking increased flexibility reduced stress, and better stability can find these benefits with yoga especially. Those seeking injury prevention, muscle building, and better posture may want to try Pilates. Improving posture is very important!
Is Yoga or Pilates Better for Pregnancy?
Typically, yoga is better for pregnancy. It’s wise to choose a class that is labeled specifically “prenatal,” however, as all of the postures will keep the pregnant woman in mind. If unable to find a prenatal yoga class, the student should inform the instructor that they are pregnant, so they can direct the individual on which positions to avoid or modify.
Which is Better for Arthritis Yoga or Pilates?
Both yoga and Pilates can help arthritis. Yoga helps strengthen and improve the flexibility of the muscles around the joints, and Pilates strengthens the bones and joints.
If not used to practicing either Pilates or yoga, look for slow, beginner classes to start with. Individuals should tell the yoga teacher or Pilates instructor that they have arthritis and where. The instructor can then tell them which yoga positions to avoid or modify so as not to exacerbate the arthritic pain and any inflammation. Gentle yoga is an excellent alternative.
How Many Times a Week Should I do Yoga?
There is no limit, but if someone can only fit in one class a week or a few at-home sessions here or there, they are still doing great. Some benefits can still be achieved no matter how much or how little someone does. As a rule, however, a solid yoga practice involves taking two or three classes a week and practicing certain poses individually whenever possible (especially when feeling extra stressed or stiff and needing some stress relief).
How Many Times a Week Should I do Pilates?
For those devoted to the Pilates method, it is recommended that they practice Pilates at least three times a week. If just starting out, try taking a beginner’s Pilates class that meets once a week. Then, practice at home independently whenever possible.
For those unsure which is the best choice for them, there is no reason why they can not try both! Each practice offers something distinctive and can be beneficial to the mind, body, and spirit in unique ways.