Yoga vs. Pilates: the Difference and Benefits
What are the differences and benefits when it comes to Yoga v Pilates?
At first glance, Pilates and yoga can seem very similar. They do share a lot, after all. Both rely largely on bodyweight exercises. Both aim at improving strength, mobility, and flexibility. They each offer low impact ways of working out.
However, there are some important differences between the two. Anybody looking to try out either should go in knowing what each can offer, and what each cannot.
A different history
The fight, yoga v Pilates, starts early, so let’s begin at the beginning, with the inception of both yoga and Pilates.
It began with Joseph Pilates, a nineteenth century German health and fitness guru. He was born sickly and remained ill and weak throughout his childhood. However, he built up his health, using a mixture of gymnastics, yoga, and martial arts.
He spent the First World War working with injured soldiers, coaching them through their rehabilitation, using the lessons he had learned to rebuild their health.
Post war, he moved to New York City, where he properly codified his system. Dancers, athletes, and actors adopted his system – the eponymously named Pilates – and it has proliferated ever since.
Yoga’s story is a lot different. It is a far more ancient practice, dating back millennia. It is a spiritual practice from India. Modern yoga often uses this spirituality, which blends elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age practices. It combines this with physical poses (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) to bring about a full, mind, body, and spirit practice.
Yoga has enjoyed growing popularity in the West since the twentieth century. It is now incredibly widespread, being one of the most widely practices exercise systems in the world.
There are lots of different types and styles of yoga. Some are ancient. Some have only been developed in recent years. Yin is a good example, here. Many are slow-paced, gentle, and focus more on mind-body connection. This includes forms like Hatha. Others, like power yoga, are more physically demanding and better suited to more experienced practitioners.
However, whatever the style, they all share the same ancient lineage.
Yoga v Pilates in practice
But what does this mean in practical terms? What can we gain from considering yoga v Pilates?
They have different back stories but still implement similar techniques. After all, as we have seen, Joseph Pilates himself practiced yoga.
There is a lot to separate the two forms of practice, however.
Pilates uses a fair amount of movement. You typically get into a set position and then move your arms, legs and torso in order to challenge and stimulate your core. Though you can sometimes see this in yoga, most often you will get into position and hold it for a few breathes before flowing into another position, or asana.
Breath work, or pranayama, is also central to yoga practice. Though it is important in Pilates, breathwork is a tool, rather than an end in itself.
The two offer some very similar benefits. Practicing either Pilates or yoga will likely improve your strength, particularly your core strength. Either will improve your stability, control, and kinaesthesia. Both will improve your mobility and flexibility whilst also protecting you against postural issues and common injuries. Both can help with stress and anxiety relief.
Kinaesthesia, also known as proprioception, is where you tune into your body to sense movement, force and position. A type of mindful exercise, if you will.
Yoga v Pilates may be redundant in some cases.
Pilates is designed in large to improve your core strength and stability. Posture plays an important part in practice, especially as a way to overcome back issues.
It’s also a valuable asset for physical therapy as part of rehabilitation. In fact, there is a whole branch of Pilates called Rehabilitation Pilates. This focuses solely on overcoming injuries and damage from surgery.
In a similar vein, yoga can be used to improve core strength. However, Pilates often focuses solely on core strength. Yoga practice can be used effectively to train the entire body. It, too, can be used for rehabilitation, though this is far less common.
Yoga involves a lot of fluid work across multiple levels, using plenty of standing postures and one-legged balances. For this reason, it is perfect for anybody looking to improve their coordination, balance, and proprioception.
Both are suitable for most people. However, it is always best to check with your healthcare provider before trying them out. This is especially the case if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, are pregnant, or you have a history of back or join pain.
Do note that yoga is often less safe than Pilates. Though much depends on your training environment and instructor, yoga by its very nature puts you into more precarious positions. Advanced asanas like headstands, lotus, and dancer’s pose, can be very challenging to master and dangerous when performed incorrectly.
A certified, experienced instructor will be able to keep you safe, however. Whichever discipline you decide to try out, go with a well-rated, well-reviewed professional. Make sure the class size is small (10 or fewer people) so that you know the instructor can keep an eye on your form.
Yoga v Pilates – which should you do?
Nobody can tell you which form you should try out. You are the only one who can decide which wins between yoga v Pilates. It may well be worth trying both out. Get a feel for each, see which one speaks to you more, which one you connect with better.
You can even find plenty of fusion styles. These mix yoga and Pilates, taking the best of each. Most modern gyms and leisure centres provide fusion classes like this. There are also plenty of follow along videos online, though this is far more dangerous as you won’t have an in-person instructor keeping you safe.
Each style offers something a little different, though.
What each offers
Pilates is a good option if you’re purely looking to improve your core strength and musculature. Its focus on core work and control makes it perfect for keeping your midriff toned, stable, and healthy.
Yoga is a more holistic form of exercise. It works your whole body, for start. You can develop full body strength, working your arms, legs, chest, lower back, and shoulders, alongside your core. It also focuses on more than the physical. Meditation and breathwork can bring clarity and anxiety relief, amongst many other benefits.
There is also a spiritual element to yoga. For many, this is by far the most important part of yoga practice. Asanas, breathwork and so on are just ways to access this spirituality. Depending on your own worldview, this may be an important distinction to take into account.
The gender divide
It can be hard to get men into both yoga and Pilates. Far more women practice both, though this is changing.
This divide is partly cultural. Both yoga and Pilates are seen as traditionally feminine athletic forms. Women are also generally more flexible than men, with more open hips, which may make getting into either practice far easier in the early days.
However, this is kind of fallacious. Men stand to benefit just as much from yoga and Pilates as women. In their earliest forms, in fact, both were practised and developed by men. Don’t let preconceptions or gender divides get in your way.
If you think you can benefit from any form of physical or spiritual practice, get involved with it. Try it out.
Yoga v Pilates – a verdict
There is no verdict. Neither is better than the other. They are, in fact, very similar in several ways. Yoga v Pilates seems a little unsolvable on the face of it.
However, as we have seen, yoga and Pilates each offer something a bit different from each other. Depending on your priorities and background, one or the other may make more sense for you. Either way, check in with your doctor before beginning practice, make sure you contact a qualified, experienced instructor, and keep safe as you try them out.
If learning yoga is something you are interested in, you can access live classes by subscribing to our Wellness Hub. These classes are taught by an experienced and qualified yoga teacher. Furthermore you can do them in the comfort of your own home
- Pilates: How it works and who needs it? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3666467/
- The effects of Pilates and yoga participant’s on engagement in functional movement and individual health level - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6732550/
- Yoga treatment for chronic non‐specific low back pain - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5294833/
- Mental Wellbeing, Quality of Life, and Perception of Chronic Illness in Yoga-Experienced Compared with Yoga-Naïve Patients - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6542302/