Blog Post

What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?

I attempt to answer this question in the video above, using lots of practical examples. If you prefer the old fashioned way, then the transcript is below.

What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?

I often get asked what the difference is between yoga and Pilates. And it’s a tricky one to answer because there are similarities and differences. But I’ll have a go.

First of all, I’ll say that I am not a Pilates teacher, and my experience of Pilates comes from being a student on the mat.

Let me start with Pilates. Pilates is a series of specific exercises that you do to strengthen the abdomen and back, with the added benefits of keeping the spine limber, and improving posture. Generally in Pilates the exercises are done as sets, with x number of repetitions, and then you move onto the next exercise. The breath is used to aid the movement, and recruit the correct muscles. Most of the time Pilates is done on a mat, but it can also be done on huge machine called the reformer.

Now, yoga. Yoga is also mat based. On that note, the mat tends to be thinner, and non-slip. Whereas the mat for Pilates is thicker to cushion the spine. However, I have a couple of students who do my yoga classes that have ‘older’ joints and prefer a thicker mat for yoga too.

There is a huge variety of yoga styles, less so with Pilates. The most familiar yoga style is vinyasa flow where the exercises, or poses we call them, link to one another in a flowing way, a bit like a choreographed dance.  

Whilst there is movement in yoga, at times we hold still in a pose, which you won’t do so much in Pilates. The yoga poses are not concerned with specific sets or reps, so in that respect it is more free form. Evenness is important though, so an exercise done on one side of the body will be repeated on the other.

In general, yoga includes more body weight exercises for the legs and upper body than Pilates does. And we tend to do more stretching. The stretching element of yoga is said to be a good way to keep your body nice and supple and therefore avoid injury. Whilst Pilates exercises are good for recovery from injury.

I find one of the main differences is that yoga is more mindful, and often includes specific time for meditation or relaxation. Generally yoga is done with awareness of your body and breath in the present moment, which can have wider benefits for your mental health and well-being.

That said, Pilates is exercise, and exercise is good for your mental health too. And, in research 70% of people who do yoga or Pilates said it relieves their stress.

However, one difference is how I feel at the end of class – I find that I generally feel kind of blissed out at the end of a yoga class, and it takes some time to come back to the real world. Whereas doing Pilates keeps my energy at a constant level, and after class I can continue with my day without any adjustment.  

Many of the exercise are very similar, and possibly were developed at around the same time at the start of the 1900s. But that is a quite controversial view, so I won’t go into detail as that would necessitate a much longer video.

Like the difference in mats, there is a difference in equipment too. Though both disciplines can be done as a pure mat workout without equipment.

I love both forms of exercise, and I do both as I enjoy how they complement each other – more core strength from Pilates, more flexibility from yoga as my top picks. Although I teach yoga, I even prefer the way some exercises are done in Pilates, like spine curls/bridge, and so I include that version in my yoga class.

So, as I said, there are similarities, there are differences. If you are trying to decide which one to do, I would say try both, to see what suits you. My husband for example hates yoga, but loves Pilates. Or, maybe you’ll be like me and love them both!

I hope that has helped your understanding of yoga and Pilates. I certainly don’t have all the answers so I’d love to know what you think are the differences or similarities between the two!

If you’d like to read more, this article is a good place to start.