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Yoga vs Pilates

When it comes to working out, we tend to gravitate to more intense forms of exercise, like high-intensity interval training or weight lifting. But for every yin, there must be a yang, which means that for all the extreme exercise we do, we need to perform an equivalent amount of restorative exercise to promote recovery and recharge the mind and body. Striking a balance between restorative and extreme exercise is paramount being able to perform at our best and achieving the body transformation you want.


Two of the most common forms of this “restorative exercise” are yoga and pilates. While some may think they are essentially the same thing (they both involve a mat, both are offered as group classes, via on-demand services, or DVD), they’re actually quite different. But both can help promote recovery from your intense training sessions and offer benefits not as readily obtained from your high-intensity training protocols.


Let’s discuss the differences between yoga vs pilates and see how they can benefit your performance and physique.


Yoga vs Pilates




Yoga was created several thousand years ago in India with the purpose of connecting an individual’s consciousness with the universal consciousness through a combination of meditative practice and physical activity. For this reason, you will not find the incorporation of exercise machines as you will with some Pilates practitioners because the mind-body-spirit connection is the center of yoga.


Both Pilates and yoga are focused on improving physical health, but yoga also places a premium on enhancing emotional and spiritual health as well. This is why most yoga sessions end with a bit of guided meditation, which may help with stress relief.


Additionally, yoga classes tend to focus on developing total body strength, particularly in the arms, shoulders, and legs, while Pilates is focused more on the “powerhouse” muscles of the body -- the deep muscles of the core and those surrounding the hips and spine.


Yoga is also available in numerous styles, from the more restorative Hatha yoga to the more physically demanding Power yoga. Additionally, depending on which style of yoga you practice, the poses and moves performed during each session may differ.


This also brings up another key difference between yoga and Pilates. The poses are considerably different and, generally speaking, you hold the poses in yoga for a greater amount of time than you do Pilates. You also tend to repeat particular movement sequences several times in a row in yoga. Traditional Pilates does not involve repeated movement sequences or poses held for any considerable amount of time.




Pilates was created in 1921 by a German inventor named Joseph Pilates who had relocated to England at the outset of World War I. While pilates is not rooted in spirituality like yoga, it’s focus is still on healing and rehabilitation. Pilates uses mindfulness to focus on one’s individual alignment, precision, and body control. This is the main difference between yoga and pilates -- the focus (or lack thereof) on a spiritual element. Yoga does, Pilates doesn’t.


Pilates developed his rehabilitation exercise protocol while interning with other Germans at a hospital on the Isle of Man with a focus on building strength, flexibility, and body awareness without the added “bulk” commonly associated with weight lifting.


At this time, Pilates also began working on several pieces of equipment (including the reformer, cadillac, and chair equipment) commonly used in the practice using bed springs to help those patients confined to their beds maintain and build muscle. It’s here that we see another major difference between yoga and pilates -- the use of more sophisticated equipment besides just a mat and block.


While yoga can be performed solely with one’s body, advanced Pilates workouts include exercises that can only be performed on certain Pilates machines.


The main focus of Pilates training is to strengthen the core, improve posture and stabilization, and elongate the spine. Six key principles govern its practice:


  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Breathing
  • Flow
  • Precision
  • Centering


Similarities Between Yoga & Pilates


As we mentioned at the outset, yoga and pilates, while different, they do have some commonality.


For example, both are bodyweight-based forms of exercise that can be performed with minimal equipment (mat, block, etc.). Additionally, both forms of exercise place an emphasis on one’s breathing during exercising, specifically they focus on deep belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing).


And, some of the poses used in each form of exercise are similar. For example, downward dog in yoga is very similar to “elephant” in Pilates. However, the progression between to positions is taken a bit slower in pilates than yoga.


Additionally, both yoga and Pilates help develop better mental focus and reduce stress. And finally, like most forms of physical activity, they can be tailored to accompany your particular fitness levels as each contains regressions and progressions of movements to meet your training acumen.


Which is Better? Yoga or Pilates?


It really depends on your goal. If you are seeking something with a more spiritual or meditative base, then yoga is likely what you want to try.


If you want something more physically challenging, you may prefer pilates or one of the more demanding styles of yoga like Power yoga. Additionally, depending on which part of your body you’re looking to strengthen may affect which style of exercise you prefer. If you’re looking to build stronger core and ab muscles, Pilates may be a better choice. But if you’re looking to tone your arms, shoulders, and thighs, yoga may be the better option due to its focus on total body movements.


At the end of the day, both can help you become stronger, reduce stress, and improve your quality of life. Pilates focuses on building from the core out, while yoga focuses on connecting the mind and the body. Each have their merits and can be incorporated into your exercise program. Combine both along with resistance-training and cardio to get the benefits of each and build a stronger, more well-rounded mind and body.


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