Maybe you’re looking for a low-impact workout that can be done at home or in a group setting. Either yoga or Pilates – or both – probably came to mind. But they both seem so similar. What is the difference between yoga and Pilates? How do you choose?
Spoiler alert: you can’t really go wrong with either form of exercise. Both come with a long list of benefits that may help support your overall health and well-being. There are a few key differences that might tip one workout or the other in your favor.
Read on to discover more about each type of workout, as well as the similarities and differences between Pilates vs yoga.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a mind and body practice that is rooted in 5,000 years of ancient Indian history and philosophy. Different types of yoga combine physical poses, breathing techniques, balance, flexibility, and meditation.1
Yoga is a form of mind-body fitness. It is centered around the five beliefs of:
- Proper relaxation
- Positive thinking and meditation2
What Types of Yoga Are Available?
There are several different forms of yoga that focus on different things. Each offers a range of potential benefits. Here’s a summary of the main types of yoga:
- Hatha Yoga: This slower-paced form of yoga combines yoga poses and breathing techniques to calm the mind, body, and spirit. Hatha yoga is often used in combination with, or in preparation for meditation.
- Vinyasa Yoga: A faster-paced “flow class” that synchronizes movements with breathing.
- Iyengar Yoga: This yoga type combines both standing and seated yoga asanas (poses). The focus is on balance, alignment, posture, strengthening muscles, and range of motion.
- Bikram Yoga: “Hot Yoga” combines deep breathing techniques and repetitive poses. Practitioners often practice in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit to help sweat out toxins.
- Vin Yoga: With this form, poses are held for 3-5 minutes, typically in a seated or relaxed position. The aim is to relieve tense muscles and restore range of motion.
- Prenatal Yoga: This gentle, low impact form of yoga is made to support pregnancy and women’s health.
- Restorative Yoga: This practice focuses on gentle, low-impact exercises. Poses are held for 10 minutes or more. The goal is relaxation, relief from physical discomfort, and stress relief.3
What Are The Benefits of Yoga?
For many people, yoga provides a space to breathe deeply and take a break from stressful situations or a hectic routine. It can be a physical as well as a spiritual practice for many. With the guidance of a skilled yoga instructor, it also allows you to calmly push your body to its physical limits and get a great workout in.
Yoga may help support:
- Muscle strength
- Weight loss 4
- Flexibility and balance 5
- Healthy stress levels 6
- A positive mood 7
- Healthy blood pressure 8
What Is Pilates?
Joseph Pilates developed Pilates at the end of World War I. His goal was to rehabilitate wounded soldiers.
Pilates is a physical and mental workout. It focuses on alignment, control, breathing, flowing movements, and concentration. It aims to lengthen the body and create lean muscle tone, rather than bulk up the body. Pilates emphasizes the core as the “powerhouse” of the body. Thus every Pilates class focuses on toning the core. 9
The core includes all muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine. This includes abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor, and the gluteus maximus. 10
What Types of Pilates Are Available?
With every type of Pilates class, your Pilates teacher will likely call attention to your breath and ask you to contract your core muscles. The actual physical activity might involve using a mat or specialized equipment. The most common two types of Pilates are:
- Reformer Pilates: This type of Pilates is done on a machine called a reformer. A reformer is a sliding platform that comes with a stationary foot bar, springs, and pulleys that add resistance. Most of the movements involve pushing or pulling your own body weight against the resistance. 11
- Pilates mat classes: Mat classes focus on building strength and muscle tone without the use of a reformer. These classes may use other equipment, like stretch bands, gym balls, and foam rollers.12
What Are The Benefits of Pilates?
Pilates may help with:
- Supporting weight loss
- Toning the waist13
- Easing lower back discomfort14
- Better balance, stability, and posture15
- Supporting relaxation and healthy stress levels16
Pilates Vs Yoga: What Are The Similarities?
Pilates and yoga both focus on the connection between the body and mind, although it is more overtly expressed in yoga. Both promote physical muscle strength, toning, balance, good posture, and flexibility. In fact, the movements in mat Pilates and yoga can look very similar.
What Are The Differences Between Pilates And Yoga?
While yoga and Pilates exercises can look similar, their focus is different.
- The goal of Pilates is to develop core strength and make daily movement more efficient.
- The goal of yoga is to expand consciousness through movement.17
They also focus on different muscle groups.
- Yoga focuses on more broad muscle groups than Pilates, which mostly focuses on toning the core muscles.
The vibe of Pilates and yoga is different.
- Yoga classes offer a greater range in vibe than Pilates classes. Some yoga classes focus on breathing and meditation, while others focus on aerobics and physical strength.
- Pilates classes offer a more structured exercise program.
- Pilates usually has no spiritual component, where yoga classes typically do.18
How To Choose Which Exercise Method Is Right For You
The question remains – should you practice Pilates or yoga? The great answer is that you really don’t have to choose. You can practice both. But if you’re looking for just one fitness program, ask yourself:
- What is your current level of fitness? If you’re in great shape and you want to fine-tune your core muscles, you may want to go with Pilates. If you’re just getting into exercise, you may want to start with a beginner yoga class.
- What are your fitness goals? If you want to lose weight, you may choose to practice yoga in a flow class that gives you a good cardio workout. If you want to build lean muscle, you may want to go with Pilates.
- Do you have any injuries or previous medical conditions? Ask your doctor which fitness program is best for you.
- Would you benefit from a meditative or spiritual component? All forms of fitness can help to relieve stress and flood your brain with feel-good chemicals. But if you’re looking to focus on mental well-being, you may want to give yoga a try.