“What’s the difference between Pilates and yoga?,” is one of the questions I’m most frequently asked. Pilates has really grown in popularity. Most of the people I encounter have heard of Pilates but don’t really know what it is. For someone who has never practiced Pilates, it’s understandable to compare it to yoga. The moves look similar, they can both be done on mats in a class setting, even the clothing is the same. Despite all that, there are several key differences between Pilates and Yoga.
Compared to yoga, Pilates is relatively new despite being around for nearly 100 years. Yoga is a physical and spiritual discipline that started in India 5,000+ years ago. Yogis use breath, simple meditation, and specific poses to help improve their physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Pilates was founded in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates and was used for physical rehabilitation. He emphasized core strength, controlled movements, posture, stability, and balance. Today, the Pilates principals are the same but they are applied to a much larger demographic. Pilates is not just for rehab, its for anyone looking to incorporate healthy movement into their life.
Both Pilates and yoga can be practiced on a mat, but that is just small one part of the Pilates equipment repertoire. Pilates also uses apparatuses such as the Reformer, Cadillac, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel, etc. These apparatuses are used throughout the workout to provide support and create resistance, building strength and flexibility simultaneously. Yoga is usually practiced on just a mat but may utilize props, like blocks or straps, to aid in the poses.
The poses in yoga can look similar to the exercises performed in Pilates. Both aim to increase strength and flexibility while improving alignment. The key difference is movement. Pilates incorporates a lot of movement throughout each session. Whether you’re actually doing an exercise or transitioning between exercises, there is movement involved. Even when you’re holding a position, your intention is to continue lengthening and scooping, moving your body into a more aligned and supported position.
Yoga creates a balance between movement and stillness. You can move between several poses in class, but you hold the poses for a while to help deepen the stretch and calm the mind.
Yoga uses poses to emphasize the mind-body connection and to create a spiritual connection. Pilates, like yoga, focuses on the mind-body connection but at its core, Pilates is exercise. It uses movement and breath to improve strength, alignment, flexibility, and balance.
There are many things that make Pilates and yoga different form one another and both are incredibly beneficial in their own way. If you’re trying to decide which method would best suit you, it helps to know how they differ and what your goals are. Why not just give both a try and see how it goes?
LMT, Pilates Instructor
and Founder of Inertia6
Rachael has a passion for movement and her athletic training and experience give her body-awareness and insight.