Sometimes, it’s simple to make a decision between two workouts. Having the motivation to go for an extended jog is entirely different than being in the mood for a barre class. But other times, fitness classes appear quite similar to one another, making it difficult to choose between them. Case in point: Pilates vs. yoga.
Both Pilates and yoga involve a substantial amount of core work and physical strength. However, they do possess distinct differences that set them apart — and these distinctions just might assist you in determining which workout to engage in on any given day. So, what are they? Here, an expert-supported introduction to Pilates vs. yoga that breaks down the differences and similarities between the two low-impact workouts so you can select the most suitable practice for yourself and your health objectives.
Pilates vs. Yoga: The Fundamentals
Before delving into the advantages of each, it is helpful to fully comprehend what Pilates and yoga entail; it’s not as evident as one might assume.
Devised by German trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, Pilates “is a system of exercises utilizing both mat work and special apparatus designed to enhance physical strength, flexibility, and posture as well as augment mental awareness,” states Lori Shipp, who is certified to instruct both Pilates and yoga. Presently, there are two variations of Pilates: Reformer and mat, both of which involve low-impact exercises combined with focused breaths, according to the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA), a nonprofit professional association.
A Reformer Pilates class typically centers around a Reformer, which is a machine that consists of a flat, cushioned, moving carriage with shoulder blocks for comfort and stability. This piece of equipment is unique to Pilates; it is not utilized in yoga. On the other hand, mat Pilates may bring to mind yoga as it occurs on the floor and can encompass a yoga block. However, you can also execute the movements with additional props, such as dumbbells, resistance bands, and a small inflatable ball.
Yoga is defined as a Hindu spiritual discipline that encompasses breath regulation, simple contemplation, and the adoption of specified physical stances (“asanas”), according to Shipp. It is widely practiced to promote well-being, suppleness, and relaxation.
Contrasting with Pilates, Yoga’s profound religious and cultural roots are a significant distinguishing factor, as elucidated by Malak Sharaf, a certified instructor in both yoga and Pilates. Sharaf states, “In my perception, Pilates focuses on the mechanics of the body and comprehending its functioning. However, yoga encompasses not only movement but also breathing, calming the mind, and attaining equilibrium.”
In reality, yoga comprises several components or “limbs,” of which only one is linked to physical activity, as explained by Sharaf. The remaining limbs prioritize breathing, contemplation, and even ethical disciplines. Additionally, unlike Pilates, yoga encompasses various forms, ranging from gentle practices like yin yoga to more physically demanding ones such as Ashtanga yoga.
What Similar Benefits Do Pilates and Yoga Share?
It is crucial to acknowledge that both Pilates and yoga require extensive focus and body awareness as one progresses through the movements, according to Shipp. “Pilates encompasses six principles, which are concentration, control, centering, flow, precision, and breathing — and many of these same principles are also utilized in yoga.” Given these parallels, it follows that both practices offer similar advantages.
To begin with, both yoga and Pilates contribute to increased flexibility and strength, affirms Shipp. In fact, a study conducted in 2010 discovered that individuals who completed one hour of Pilates exercises twice a week for 12 weeks experienced significant enhancements in hamstring flexibility. Additionally, studies have correlated regular yoga practice with improved flexibility. These outcomes may be attributed to both workouts’ emphasis on stretching, although yoga places slightly more emphasis on holding poses, thereby facilitating stretching and subsequently enhancing flexibility.
Both workouts also incorporate substantial core exercises, which aid in muscle strengthening and posture improvement. For instance, during a Pilates session on Monday and a yoga flow on Friday, you may perform a plank pose that targets the abdominal area, chest, and lower back. By engaging your core through this pose, you contribute to stabilizing the lower back and, in turn, maintaining proper posture, as previously mentioned by Amy Jordan, the creator and CEO of WundaBar Pilates.
Continuing with the plank pose example: Not only does the exercise channel your abdominal muscles, but it also strengthens the arms, shoulders, and wrists as you have to utilize your upper body to maintain the position. This is one way both Pilates and yoga can enhance muscles throughout your body.
What Advantages Do Pilates and Yoga Possess That Distinguish Them?
While both workouts can aid in stress relief — as can any type of physical activity thanks in part to the mood-lifting endorphins — yoga (as opposed to Pilates) is more intertwined with centering attention, reducing stress, and increasing concentration, according to the experts.
In comparison to Pilates, yoga places more emphasis on breathing practices and meditation, says Sharaf — and both of these elements are known to relax and center the mind. However, feeling more at ease is merely one of the mental health benefits of this workout: Yoga (as opposed to Pilates) has also been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression by elevating levels of a brain chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), according to Harvard Health Publishing. Moreover, studies suggest that a consistent yoga practice can also strengthen parts of the brain that play a crucial role in memory, attention, awareness, thought, and language, thus helping to fend off declines in cognitive health associated with aging.
Unlike in Pilates, yoga typically involves chanting, which “creates a vibration that is beneficial for both the mind and body,” says Sharaf. And research supports this: Studies have indicated that repeating the word (or sound) “om” stimulates the vagus nerve, which calms both the mind and body.
When it comes to their physical effects, Pilates (in contrast to yoga) is slightly more protective of the body, says Sharaf. Part of this is because the movements in Pilates tend to be smaller, thus reducing the risk of injury. “Some yoga poses are quite extreme and can be hazardous if attempted by someone who is not ready,” says Sharaf. “When you see other people in a yoga class doing extreme poses, it’s easy to want to attempt them before you’re prepared. This is less likely to occur in Pilates.”
Another notable advantage of Pilates over yoga? The equipment used in class allows for deeper work and strengthening, says Shipp. “By utilizing even the smallest of props, like the magic circle, Pilates has the ability to target specific muscles and provide an incredible strength training and stability workout,” she explains.
Pilates vs. Yoga: Which Is Superior?
So, which workout should you choose? That decision is up to you, and according to the experts, both Pilates and yoga deserve a place in your exercise routine.
“I recommend to people that generally yoga is [best for] flexibility and stability, while Pilates is [best for] strength and stability,” says Shipp
That being stated, you can encounter both enhanced power in yoga and improved suppleness in Pilates — perhaps just not as much. (
Furthermore, one is not a superior exercise than the other; they’re merely distinct. “They both can be low impact, low intensity, and comprehensive for all bodies,” says Shipp. “They can also be ‘cranked up to 10’ and can necessitate a high level of aerobic fitness combined with extreme proficiency and power. They both can be precisely what you necessitate them to be for your personal well-being objectives.” You may even find yourself donning the same running sports bra for these workouts as you would for running.
If you absolutely must decide between them, Shipp’s advice is simple: Do what you love. “Choose the one that brings you the most happiness in the movements and you discover the most enjoyable,” she says. “Life is too brief.”
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