To an uninformed onlooker, yoga and pilates may look exactly the same. After all, it’s just some stretching, right?
Ironically, people who deem pilates and yoga easy, low-impact exercises, would likely struggle to complete a single lesson.
Let’s take a close look at both of these disciplines and learn how they differ from each other.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient discipline with the primary focus of steadying the mind, and the ultimate goal of enlightenment. What started as a meditative practice developed into a system of mental, physical and spiritual activities all contributing towards the same goal.
Due to its ancient roots, yoga has had centuries to branch out and develop into a multifaceted practice as we know it today.
Because of its complex history, yoga can be quite difficult to define. To some people, it’s a form of exercise, to others it’s a mental and emotions respite from the world.
For the purpose of comparing it to pilates, we will mainly examine yoga through the lens of physical exercise.
Benefits of Yoga Practice
Flexibility. The top reason people sought after yoga, as well as the top reason students stuck with yoga is their desire to improve flexibility. It has been confirmed by multiple studies that yoga has a positive effect on flexibility in various populations, from college athletes to senior adults.
Balance. Due to the nature of many yoga poses, balance is another great “side effect” of regular yoga practice. This is especially beneficial to people who struggle with dynamic coordination and static steadiness.
Strength. While many people still think of yoga as a way of “stretching”, yoga is actually a powerful tool for building long-term muscle strength. The variety of different asanas assures that every part of the body is targeted in a balanced practice.
Stability. As well as strengthening large groups of muscles, yoga impacts various systems of support in the body. Yoga is incredibly helpful in strengthening stabilizer muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue.
Cardio. Even though yoga is technically considered a low-impact activity, a more intense practice is a great tool for improving various factors of cardiovascular health, including blood pressure, circulation, and maximal oxygen consumption (VO2).
Sleep. One of the lesser-known benefits of yoga is its positive impact on sleep quality is various demographics. Yoga may help you fall asleep faster, sleep for longer, wake up less frequently, and enjoy a peaceful rest.
What to expect in a yoga class?
Most commercial yoga classes are 45-90 minutes in length. Group classes tend to be labeled to include the type of yoga, as well as the experience level the class is intended for.
An “open level” class is typically more broad when it comes to the students’ ability, and it’s up to the teacher to provide appropriate modifications so that the practice can be completely safely and efficiently.
Some yoga classes may start with a chant (in Sanskrit), a short meditation, or setting an intention for the practice.
After that, the class is typically constructed of a warm-up, followed by a standing sequence and balancing poses. When it’s time to wind down, the practice moves closer to the ground, including some seated and supine poses.
Traditionally, yoga practice ends with Savasana, an extended iteration of the Corpse Pose to help the body relax and recuperate.
Of course, the actual content of a yoga class depends on the purpose of the practice, the style of yoga, and the imagination of the yoga teacher leading the class.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a modern practice which includes a series of floor-based exercises using the practitioner’s body weight or special equipment. Pilates exercises are aimed at promoting strength (particularly core strength), flexibility and control.
Pilates inherited its name from the man who developed this discipline, Joseph Pilates. The pilates system was born out of necessity when Joseph, a man with background in circus arts and boxing, was confined in forced internment during World War I.
With limited equipment, Joseph Pilates was able to devise a series of floor-based exercise that would strengthen major muscle groups. In the 1920s, when Pilates moved to the United States, he was able to develop his method even further, introducing special resistance equipment to facilitate the training.
Along with his wife, he was able to open the first studio where he taught students from 1926 and 1966. Throughout this period, Joseph passed on his teaching to the first generation of trained pilates instructors.
Benefits of Pilates
Core strength. The main principle of pilates is using the core strength to train other major muscle groups. This method was proved to be very effective for strengthening the entire body in menopausal women and senior individuals. Through truthfully, anyone would benefit from the type of strength this practice brings. In fact, originally pilates was most popular among professional dancers as a way of improving their stamina and supplementing their training.
Physical endurance. Although pilates is an adaptable practice, it takes some serious commitment. Even exercising at a lower intensity level, pilates significantly improves physical endurance.
Flexibility. One of the major selling points of pilates is its ability to increase end range of movement within the joints. Pilates promotes a safe and conscious way of increasing muscle elasticity while keeping them toned and lean.
Improved posture. Thanks to its focus on core strength and muscle stability, regular pilates practice leads to better posture and reduced lower back pain.
Weight loss. Many people seek out pilates classes because of its efficacy as a weight loss exercise. Unlike cardio-based activities, pilates offers a less volatile, more long-term approach.
What to expect in a pilates class?
The most basic type of pilates is a floor-based mat class. It doesn’t require any special equipment or advance preparation.
In fact, most of the time in a mat pilates class is spent lying down. The practitioners work on engaging their core muscles, then challenging their stability with small movements.
It may not look difficult, but your muscles will definitely feel sore for a few days after that first pilates class!
The more complex classes include the use of special pilates props. Pilates equipment ranges from small, portable props like resistance bands or the so-called “magic circle”, to complex machines such as the pilates reformer.
On average, pilates classes are 45-60 minutes long. But don’t be fooled, a shorter class does not mean less effort!
Similarities Between Yoga and Pilates
As you can already see, there is definite overlap between the disciplines of yoga and pilates. Turns out there is a reason why so many people confuse them with each other!
One of the main reasons people are drawn to both pilates and yoga is the promise of increased flexibility. Compared to other forms of workout, yoga and pilates are excellent tools for improving your mobility.
Part of the appeal of both pilates and yoga is the fact that they are very inclusive. Yoga and pilates are for everyone!
The poses and exercises can be adapted to include complete beginners, people with injuries, elderly practitioners, as well as professional athletes, dancers, and cheerleaders.
While this isn’t exclusive to either discipline, physical activity as a whole is a great way to release stress and improve your mood.
A wonderful secondary benefit of yoga and pilates is the boost of confidence they bring to those who practice either of these activities.
Discovering what your body is capable of is incredibly empowering. It can help with improving the body image, shifting the focus to strength and flexibility rather than appearance.
Part of the reason we often compare pilates vs yoga is because they both improve physical and mental wellbeing, as well as promoting the mont-body connection.
Even though pilates is better-known for its physical component, Joseph Pilates was adamant that his method was about the complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.
Differences Between Yoga and Pilates
Even though pilates has been around for almost 100 years, yoga is a much older, more complex discipline. It was tried and tested over centuries.
Yoga had time to evolve and branch out to various styles and approaches. From the slow-paced and restorative Yin yoga to the vigorous and dynamic Ashtanga yoga, this amazing practice transcends time, as well as a broad range of cultures and environments.
That’s not to say that pilates has no variety or depth. It is simply a more recently developed method. Who knows, in a few hundred years it may take the world by storm just as yoga did.
It is true that both pilates and yoga can be enhanced with a use of props. However, the purpose of yoga props is basically the opposite to the purpose of pilates equipment.
The former exists to ease the pose, bridge the gap, or to support the body in restorative positions. For example, you may use a yoga strap to perform Paschimottanasana, or sit on a block during meditation.
When it comes to pilates, the extras are supposed to provide residence. So instead of making the exercises more user-friendly, pilates equipment is often added to challenge the student.
Another major difference when you compare pilates vs yoga is the method used for achieving fitness and stamina. Depending on the style of yoga, practitioners either hold the poses (focus on endurance and strength) or flow between asanas (focus on balance and breathing).
The way pilates works, the core is locked in an engaged position. Once that happens, the practitioner challenges their core stability with additional movement of their arms, legs, and/or torso.
A great example that demonstrates this difference is Plank Pose (Phalakasana). In yoga, this pose is either used as a transition to Chaturanga Dandasana, or held for a few breaths to create tension in the core and legs.
In contrast, pilates brings dynamic movement to the plank position, introducing rocking, mountain climbers, or leg lifts. The goal is to maintain steady core engagement even when the balance is challenged.
Is pilates harder than yoga?
The answer to this question depends on the strengths and weaknesses of each individual practitioner. Truthfully though, neither yoga nor pilates are easy, even for the people who are physically fit.
Furthermore, it may depend on what the person is used to. Someone who usually does yoga may find the repetitive nature of pilates very challenging. On the other hand, someone with pilates experience would likely struggle with a fluid, energetic yoga sequence.
Which one is better for weight loss, yoga or pilates?
On the surface level, yoga is better for weight loss because a dynamic session like Vinyasa or Ashtanga burns a ton of calories.
However, pilates targets lean muscle, which means it’s an excellent way to change your body shape. Plus, body weight is a better long-term solution than cardio.
Of course, both yoga and pilates show better weight loss results in combination with balanced nutrition, plentiful sleep, and lower stress levels.
Can you do both pilates and yoga?
There is absolutely no decree that forbids you from practicing yoga and pilates. If you find the right balance, these two disciplines can complement each other beautifully.
In fact, many yoga studios offer pilates classes for that exact reason. And if you practice at home, you can even combine elements of both in a single session.
On a grand scale, the differences between yoga and pilates may be subtle, but they are not one and the same!
As you can see, neither discipline is better than the other, it just depends on your preference and the goals you are trying to achieve.