What’s the difference between yoga and Pilates?

by PNWP on January 8, 2009

Frequently, people ask me what the difference is between yoga and Pilates and if they should practice one versus the other. While there are differences, there are many elements of Pilates and yoga that compliment each other.

Yoga which means “union,” is a highly sophisticated system of whole-body integration. It has a physical component, the asana (postures or poses) that promote toning and strengthening muscles, flexibility and range of motion, balance and relaxation. It generates motion without causing strain or imbalance in the body. It also asks for a full union of body, mind and spirit, so you can’t be distracted while doing yoga–you need to be fully present. Yoga is a spiritual practice, providing tools to help quiet the mind, become more grounded, and live in harmony and tranquility.

Pilates, on the other hand, is an exercise form developed by Joseph H. Pilates during World War I. The Pilates method emphasizes building strength and improving posture, balance, coordination and stamina. The exercises can be done on the floor (mat-based Pilates) and on specialized equipment. Designed to strengthen, stretch, and stabilize muscles without building bulk, Pilates can benefit anyone. In Pilates, emphasis is placed on ensuring that the movement is done fluidly, but, accurately: The quality of the movement is more important than the number of repetitions completed.

So, what are the similarities between the two methods?

  • Both methods facilitate deep concentration and integration of the whole body. Often described as the mind-body connection, this leads one to be fully present and in the moment
  • Both improve alignment and posture and create a sense of balance in the body.
  • Both forms are excellent for injury prevention. Both promote healing and help facilitate recovery from injury.
  • Both are interested in creating a sense of energetic flow through the body, facilitating grace, poise and coordination.
  • Both forms have been “tried and tested.” They aren’t just some new fitness fad.

What are some of the main differences?

  • Yoga adds a spiritual element to the mix. The Indian sage Patanjali wrote the yoga sutras thousands of years ago, describing the spiritual and philosophical path of yoga.
  • Yoga takes a holistic approach to the body, while Pilates focuses on a specific area called “The Powerhouse.”
  • Pilates improves flexibility by fluidly moving the limbs in their full range of motion against a stable base of support, while yoga improves flexibility by lengthening muscles during dynamic poses (asanas).
  • Yoga offers tools to aid in relaxation, relieving stress, and meditation.
  • Breathing is very important in both forms, but the technique is different.

Why is the combination so beneficial?

  • The concentration required in a Pilates workout really helps build the focus that is required for doing the yoga asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation.
  • The focus on precision and movement technique, emphasized in Pilates, assists the yoga student to work more correctly.
  • The asana in yoga give the Pilates student a broader scope of practice to apply stability and good technique.
  • The stronger core body developed in Pilates, gives the student confidence to go more deeply into their yoga practice, more safely.

Practicing both Pilates and Yoga, gives a student more tools for developing a whole body that is vital, aware and adaptable.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jean Leavenworth January 12, 2009 at 9:44 am

This is a great article Sue! I get asked this question a lot too and now I can just refer people to this wonderful article!


Fat Loss January 16, 2009 at 6:59 am

Great analysis, Sue. I think both are good and safe ways of weight loss and to maintain physical and mental health. Both should be followed in compliment to each other for better results, I suppose.



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Jenny September 20, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Thank you. I appreciate you directing me to this link. It explains the difference and benefits very well.


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Sara Slack October 27, 2014 at 4:56 pm

This is great! I run into the problem of explaining Pilates to my Dad. No matter how I explain it he seems to think it is some kind of “fad” or “hocus pocus” sort of thing that doesn’t really have any evidence that it does anything for people. I think I just need to con him in to trying it!!


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