From the outside looking in, yoga and Pilates might seem interchangeable. They both use low-impact movements and body resistance to progress through the sequence. Plus, both yogis and Pilates enthusiasts roll out their mats in matching gym apparel.
But there are actually some key differences between these two, popular workouts. And knowing these can help you decide which one is the best fit for you.
Origins and Roots
Yoga originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. It’s said to be one of the pillars within the ancient “science of life”, called Ayurveda.
Of course, over the millennia, yoga has spread and evolved. So, today there are various styles of yoga like Bikram, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga, just to name a few.
Pilates, on the other hand, is a bit younger. It was founded by the athlete, Joseph Pilates, at the turn of the last century.
This century-old practice was developed to help World War I soldiers rehabilitate and recover after military action.
It grew in popularity once Joseph moved to the United States, where dancers began using Pilates to build their flexibility, endurance and improve muscle toning.
Whereas yoga has many variations, Pilates has only two main variations: classical and Stott.
Yoga provides an opportunity to become more flexible and strong throughout the entire body. Having a strong core is important but it isn’t the main focus. In yoga, the core is just one of many connections within the body.
Pilates aims to strengthen the core muscles, which we often think of as just the abdominal muscles.
But core muscles surround the spine, too. Pilates focuses on strengthening the mid-section and therefore, the spine. The key philosophy of Pilates is that all movement starts in the core.
Yoga looks at the body as an energetic being. Tension, tightness, and rigidity can inhibit the flow of energy throughout the body.
The physical postures in yoga are obviously important to release tension, but breath plays a very important role, too.
Breath is seen as a source of energy and it connects the mind, body, and spirit.
During a yoga practice, the aim is to become aware of this energy and allow it to flow freely – even during a difficult pose! Because breath is so integral to a yoga practice, a lot of attention is given to the breath itself. Some classes focus exclusively on different breathing techniques.
In Pilates, it’s important to coordinate breath with movement because it helps to optimize your workout.
During a Pilates workout, you’re encouraged to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. During the easiest part of a movement, you breathe in, and naturally, exhale when its most difficult.
Apart from that, you don’t focus very much on your breath in Pilates.
By now, you probably can tell that yoga is more than just a fitness routine. It’s deeply rooted in spiritual concepts.
Within a yoga practice, you can meditate, and grow in mindfulness and awareness because of the movements and breath. Many times, a class will begin with a specific intention that you carry with you throughout the class.
Concepts like ease, harmony, acceptance, self-love, letting go, and trust are all common intentions for a yoga practice.
Pilates can help you distress and feel connected to your body, but there’s no spiritual component to this fitness practice.
Pilates is a workout. The aim is to strengthen your core and spine, which in turn helps you learn to move with ease and grace. But there’s little talk about spirit.
You can look at yoga as a good workout, too but yoga uses movement and breath to help you go deeper into the self.
Yoga practice is meant to help you free yourself of distractions, find inner stillness and accept the present moment. For this reason, the yoga class is often silent, apart from the teacher’s guidance.
Pilates instructors can play fun and upbeat music to motivate and inspire the class. For example, Cassey Ho, founder of Blogilates, does her routines in time to pop music.
Because of yoga’s long and rich history, there are many kinds of yoga to choose from, and some can include hundreds of variations – except for Bikram yoga and Ashtanga yoga, which are usually structured around a consistent set of poses and postures.
Most other yoga classes can change a lot depending on the teacher’s style. So, try to do a little research before enrolling in a class.
Pilates is much more predictable because there are far fewer styles to choose from. When you walk into a Pilates class, you can expect to focus on specific muscle groups by doing specific, well-known movements.
It’s possible to work up a good sweat during both Pilates and yoga, but in yoga, you typically move at a slower, gentler pace.
It’s important to focus on how the entire body feels.
Pilates usually moves at an intense pace and focuses on one area of the body. Yoga, on the other hand, focuses on a concept that you explore throughout the practice.
Poses and Postures
During a yoga practice, you’ll probably spend most of your time standing up, or at least on your feet.
Yes, there are downward-facing dogs, a child’s pose and many other resting postures. But in general, you’ll find yourself balancing and building endurance as you move through the sequence.
Pilates gives you a great workout without needing to jump around or exercising on your feet much.
Most of the groundwork happens, well, on the ground. If you enjoy sitting, kneeling and lying down when you exercise, this could be the perfect fitness style for you.
How to Choose Between Yoga and Pilates
Once you pick up your mat, which way do you turn?
You can go East, to the ancient, spiritual practice of yoga.
Or, you can head West, and challenge your body and mind with a core-strengthening workout.
If you want to tone up and trim down, Pilates is a great choice. If you’re looking to cultivate awareness and acceptance, yoga would be the way to go.
Or, why not try both, and even alternate between the two to get a well-rounded fitness routine for your entire body?