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Pilates vs Yoga | Which Is Right For You?

At first, Pilates and yoga may appear similar. While they are related in their ability to improve your flexibility, strength and stress management, both are very different in their origins and outcomes.

What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?

Let’s start at the beginning. When comparing yoga and Pilates it is important to understand that each has very different origins.

i. Origins of yoga

Yoga began in Northern India many thousands of years ago. It was created by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. It started as a collection of ideas and techniques, some contradictory, before Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras gave it the shape of a path that leads to enlightenment.

Yoga has since evolved, spreading far and wide to different cultures around the world. Today you may know it by one of its many forms such as Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, or Vinyasa. Each different style focuses on a different aspect of the practice of yoga, from the physical to the spiritual.

ii. Origins of Pilates

Pilates is named after Joseph Pilates, the inventor of the practice, who as a child suffered from several diseases that limited his mobility. He created Pilates exercises in the early 1900s in a bid to help those likewise afflicted with rehabilitation and strengthening.

From the 1960s, the popularity of the practice of Pilates has gone from strength to strength since moving from Europe to New York and has been utilized by dancers and ballerinas to improve their mobility, strength, and stamina.

woman doing yoga at the beach

iii. Health benefits of yoga

While yoga may be considered one part spiritual, two parts physical, it comes with a myriad of health benefits including increased strength, flexibility and balance. Of course it depends on the kind of positions and yoga you commit to, as well as how frequently you do it, but it requires your limbs to stretch in a way that increases suppleness.

By holding certain poses you may increase muscle strength, correct your posture or any balance issues and address back pain. Further to this, evidence suggests that yoga benefits people with high blood pressure and heart disease.

It’s not just about physical well-being either. Yoga can help you deal with the surface symptoms of conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety through meditation and mindful breathing.

iv. Health benefits of Pilates

While there is plenty of room for more research on the health benefits of Pilates, it is synonymous with muscle toning and mobility. It shares this in common with yoga, with its strengthening poses helping with posture and flexibility it can inevitably help to reduce the risk of injury and increase agility.

Because Pilates utilizes equipment, unlike yoga, it is particularly effective as a sort of rehabilitation, especially for lower back pain. Certain Pilates classes, such as trigger point Pilates, use equipment such as recovery balls and foam rollers to target and loosen sore or tight muscles.

v. Typical yoga workout vs typical Pilates workout

Yoga comes in many styles and so one type may vary to another. They range from gentle, relaxing, more spiritual experiences to sweaty strengthening workouts.

Certain yoga types, such as Bikram and Ashtanga, involve sequences, making them more consistent. Other types, such as Vinyasa feature an element of creative freedom that may be determined by the teacher and result in a variety of poses.

Pilates is comparatively more consistent from workout to workout, with exercises performed lying supine, prone, or on your side. Classes may vary from beginners to advanced, but a general workout will involve minimal impact and muscular strengthening combined with flexibility exercises.

The main difference to yoga is the use of equipment. Pilates classes use a range of equipment from smaller items such as recovery balls, foam rollers, and exercise balls to larger pieces such as a Pilates chair or a Pilates bolster. Which equipment you use will depend on the type of Pilates class you attend and what the instructor prefers to use.

woman sat down about to teach a yoga class

How to choose between yoga vs Pilates

Depending on your fitness goals you may at first think yoga and Pilates are pretty similar. It all comes down to your aims.

With yoga there is the element of a spiritual path, from which you may achieve inner peace. For your mental health, yoga has the ability to tackle your cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that can help you to center.

As a workout it can help ease arthritis and relieve back pains, but if you are looking for a more rigorous toning and strengthening workout that may be applied to sport performance, Pilates is probably for you.

There is a reason that dancers since the 60s have employed Pilates as a cornerstone of their weekly exercise. It can help to loosen up your limbs, keep your muscles supple and increase your flexibility, all while building back and abdominal strength and correcting your posture.

i. Pilates vs yoga for weight loss

While yoga comes in different forms – not to mention hot yoga, which will leave you sweating without lifting a finger – studies suggest that Pilates is best for weight loss.

A 50-minute Hatha class can burn about 145 calories, or a power yoga class can achieve around 250. If you want to use yoga to lose weight, it is best to combine this with a more high-intensity form of cardio exercise.

In comparison, a 50-minute Pilates workout can burn between 255 and 375 calories. To really lose weight, however, you would need to do this Pilates workout for four to five days each week.

ii. Yoga or Pilates for toning

Both yoga and Pilates are great for toning your body as they each increase strength and endurance by using your body weight.

However yoga tends to focus more on meditation and breathing techniques while Pilates makes the most of repetitive movements to build strength gradually. Pilates also makes use of different exercise equipment, unlike yoga, to perform a wider range of exercises that help to build strength and tone in your muscles.

So out of the two, Pilates is generally considered to be better for conditioning and toning your body.

Take home message

The choice between yoga and Pilates depends entirely on your training goals. Yoga comes in many forms and is as much about meditation and spirituality as it about limbering and strengthening your body. Pilates and its flexible system allows for different exercises to be modified in range of difficulty and the level of intensity can be increased over time as your body conditions.
Whichever you prefer, doing yoga or Pilates will benefit both your physical and mental health so give them try!

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Victoria Catterall-Decalmer

Victoria Catterall-Decalmer


Victoria has a master’s degree in English Literature. She loves doing unconventional workouts like pole fit, which she’s done for the past four years. She’s also a passionate foodie, so in her spare time, you’ll find her trying out the newest restaurants in her home town.

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