Yoga vs. Pilates: Which Is Right For you?

Cobra Pose

Yoga and Pilates devotees often advocate their practice with passion and fire, boasting about the physical and mental benefits they earn through dedicated practice. However, to you, the novice, yoga and Pilates seem closely related, if not the same. A yogi or Pilates practitioner may serve you their own side of the story regarding the differences in methodology, but which practice is actually right for you?

Yoga is an ancient practice predating written history that focuses the body, mind and spirit. The yoga lifestyle upholds more than just a healthy physical lifestyle by embracing good moral values such as honesty and tolerance. Its intention was to join the individual spirit with the universal spirit. Pilates is a modern school of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s as a way to improve core strength and spinal alignment. Pilates combines flexibility, core strength and body awareness to support physical rehabilitation.

Ancient yoga practices were passed down individually between teacher and student, so there are many schools and types of yoga. Types include Hatha, Ashtanga, Bikram, and more. Each school of yoga combines a series of postures, breathing exercises and meditation to form different routines. The repetitive movement of yoga can be very therapeutic while also building flexibility and strength. Yoga has also developed popularity as a great way to relieve stress. Exercises are completed on a floor mat and need no special equipment to begin.

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Pilates improves your body from the center outward by strengthening your core and improving your posture. Pilates is considered a resistance exercise to build muscle and support for the body while aiding flexibility. The core and spinal cord are the central and most important part of whole-body strength and awareness. The cornerstones of Pilates exercises include concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision. A floor mat and specialized machines, such as the reformer, may be used in Pilates practice. Unlike yoga, Pilates does not include any intentional form of mediation during the workout.

Pilates Ab Work

Whichever practice you choose, it will be a nice escape from your usual spinning or aerobic step class, but don't expect yoga or Pilates to get your heart rate up much. Classes like power yoga or more advanced levels of Pilates may only raise your heart rate up to that of a brisk walk. Stick with other workouts if you are looking for an aerobic exercise. Yoga and Pilates won't be heavy calorie burners for weight management either. A 50-minute jog will burn two or three times the calories compared to a 50-minute Pilates or yoga class.

Pilates reigns supreme as the key to a strong core and improved posture. Practitioners experience stronger abdominal muscles and those hard-to-target obliques from holding positions and using resistance. While Pilates exercises won't lengthen your muscles as some claims tout, your improved posture will make your body appear taller and leaner. You will also see improved flexibility in your hamstrings and hips. Yoga will provide the most improvement in flexibility. Holding poses while focusing on breathing stretches the body and relaxes muscles, and certain poses will target certain muscles.

pilates leg circle

Ready to try a yoga class? All yoga classes are different. Many gyms and yoga studios offer classes for beginners. Class size may range from small to large. It may be wise to ask the instructor or studio what style and pace the classes are before you go. If you don't like one style of yoga, there may be another school of practice that is better for your exercise and meditation style.


Pilates classes are more structured than yoga classes. It may not be offered at your local gym, so look for specialized Pilates studios to find the most diverse offering of classes from beginners to advanced level. Class size may range from small to individual or personal for machine-based practice or small to large for on-the-mat practice.

Both of these practices can be done at home! There are a number of DVD programs or online resources to get your daily workout. There is no need to pick a side; combine both yoga and Pilates for a healthy body, mind and spirit!