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What's the Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

What's the Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

A question that constantly pops up among fitness newbies is whether they should take yoga or Pilates. Both mind-body practices are great forms of strength training that build long, lean muscles. You might be surprised to learn that Joseph Pilates, the founder Pilates, looked to yoga for inspiration when creating his exercise method! With that said, there are some big differences between the two workouts to keep in mind.

The Spiritual Side of Things

Yoga is rooted in a spiritual, meditative practice, and many contemporary yoga classes choose to bring this element to the mat. If the idea of chanting, finding your spiritual center, or aligning your chakras sounds like something you'd be into, then yoga is the way to go! For those who'd prefer to steer clear of that stuff, you'll be pleased to know that this is not present in the Pilates method.

Align Right

While you won't be asked to connect with your chakras in Pilates, you will be talking about your body and muscle groups in great detail. Pilates puts great emphasis on using the deep abs and pelvic floor while the limbs move three-dimensionally in space. While there are some aspects of yoga that relate, there's far more of an anatomical, alignment-based approach to Pilates when compared with the majority of yoga classes.

The Mechanics — or Machinery!

In yoga class, you use can specific props like blankets, blocks, or a strap to ease into poses, and Pilates mat work similarly requires no props. However, a large repertory of exercises has been created for the use of machines, like the Pilates reformer or Pilates Cadillac, which are vastly more intricate than the props used in yoga. The machines use heavy springs to create resistance and are incredibly versatile, taking the mat work to different levels — providing support to make exercises easier or adding resistance to challenge the muscles more.

How Fast Can You Flow?

In terms of pacing, yoga is considerably more static than Pilates, since yoga poses are generally held for a number of breaths, except the flowing vinyasa that connects poses in Ashtanga and other forms of yoga too. Straight-up yoga classes tend to be 75 to 90 minutes, while Pilates mat classes are generally an hour. While you're getting a little more time in at yoga, both classes are roughly the same price.

In short, asking us to choose between yoga or Pilates is like asking us to choose a favorite child. The two practices enrich each other greatly, and the more anatomically specific elements taught in Pilates enhance the more abstract images used in yoga. The only way to make an intelligent choice is to take both classes and see what you like more!


— Additional reporting by Susi May

Image Source: Thinkstock
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Benjamin15430163 Benjamin15430163 2 years

FYI - There's no record that Joseph Pilates ever studied yoga. It's an urban myth that sprouted up over the years, probably based on the superficial similarity of some Pilates exercises and yoga asanas.

MissWhyFitness MissWhyFitness 2 years
Interesting points! To me personally, yoga infusions are a lot of fun, as they are less focused on static poses and more on movement. Ashtanga is also a good one as it requires strenght and flexibility together with unpredictable sequences. What I do not like in Pilates, is that I get bored with the routine, which is most of the time the same. :)
emalove emalove 8 years
I've always been into yoga, but recently began taking classes and I'm just loving it...I haven't tried pilates yet, but I'm considering trying that as well. I like yoga for the serenity and relaxation it brings me...I think I would like to try pilates to increase my strength and tone up a little bit.
ncharden ncharden 8 years
I think that the practices are completely complementary- both build strength, but in different ways. Practicing both yoga and pilates also give you the chance to excell faster in your skill. I love bikram yoga ( aka *hot* yoga) for the combination of flexibility and strength training that it offers, along with the relaxational qualities. The 110 degree/ 50% humidity in room also loosens up your muscles like you've never known, and it's great for my tight hip flexors- i can run again!
ncharden ncharden 8 years
I think that the practices are completely complementary- both build strength, but in different ways. Practicing both yoga and pilates also give you the chance to excell faster in your skill. I love bikram yoga ( aka *hot* yoga) for the combination of flexibility and strength training that it offers, along with the relaxational qualities. The 110 degree/ 50% humidity in room also loosens up your muscles like you've never known, and it's great for my tight hip flexors- i can run again!
mtiger mtiger 8 years
My friend started a workout plan that includes 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of yoga/pilates (alternates each day) five days a week. I'm thinking of trying this, too. How does this plan sound? I'm just now becoming very interested in exercise. Can anyone recommend any great 30 minute cardio, yoga, and pilates DVD's?
Anais18 Anais18 8 years
I'm more of a pilates fan (does wonders for the core), but I'd love to be able to do those difficult yoga poses which rely mostly on the strength of your arms...
veronicaraye veronicaraye 8 years
i think yoga is the platform for pilates.
Vexedlovely Vexedlovely 8 years
I love both! Yoga for the strength after and pilates for bringing my core back to life!
kiddylnd kiddylnd 8 years
In terms of muscle, when it's said that these things create long, lean muscles it is in contrast to other activities. For instance lifting weights and strength training generally bulks up the muscle in the middle (width), pilates and yoga tend to strengthen the length of the muscle creating a difference in the appearance of the muscle. So while Niko is 100% correct that you can't actually lengthen the muscle, you can build muscle and create a different appearance depending on what method you work it. This would be more of a 'toned' effect with pilates and yoga, as opposed to a 'ripped' effect with strength training and weight lifting. Make sense? :strong:
Bahia Bahia 8 years
I enjoy pilates more so than yoga but they are both very good exercises.
hottpink hottpink 8 years
Thanks winniebaby! I want to learn the correct poses with the right form, so I might take a class or two to get me into it. Which DVD's do you recommend or like?
winniebaby winniebaby 8 years
Hi Hottpink (love your name), just putting my 2 cents in. I began learning Yoga with instructional DVDs and started taking classes after that. Personally, I love both, but if I think the best would be to take it in a class at least in the beginning, so the teacher can correct your poses. With your free time, you can use the instructional DVDs as a supplement. On the subject of yoga and pilates, I take a class called yogalates (or piyo), which combines yoga and pilates into the class. It is great if you do not have time to take too many classes, but want the benefits of both. Like fitsugar, I love both too much to give up either. =)
winniebaby winniebaby 8 years
Hi Hottpink (love your name), just putting my 2 cents in. I began learning Yoga with instructional DVDs and started taking classes after that. Personally, I love both, but if I think the best would be to take it in a class at least in the beginning, so the teacher can correct your poses. With your free time, you can use the instructional DVDs as a supplement. On the subject of yoga and pilates, I take a class called yogalates (or piyo), which combines yoga and pilates into the class. It is great if you do not have time to take too many classes, but want the benefits of both. Like fitsugar, I love both too much to give up either. =)
hottpink hottpink 8 years
I have always wanted to take a yoga class but I already work full-time, am finishing up school, run and take pole lessons so my schedule is very packed. I do know the very basics of yoga but was wondering if you can learn and incorporate yoga with only a instructional DVD??? Any thoughts Fit?
nikolem2 nikolem2 8 years
Good answers to a common question. However, I'd be quick to point out that, no matter what we're told about Pilates and yoga, NO form of exercise can actually "lengthen" your muscles. I think people are easily confused about that, and even instructors buy into it. Muscles are the length that they are--they never shorten or lengthen in response to training. They're a certain length, and contracting them momentarily shortens them, but then they go back to their same length at rest. Training can change the size of a muscle, but not its length.
nikolem2 nikolem2 8 years
Good answers to a common question. However, I'd be quick to point out that, no matter what we're told about Pilates and yoga, NO form of exercise can actually "lengthen" your muscles. I think people are easily confused about that, and even instructors buy into it. Muscles are the length that they are--they never shorten or lengthen in response to training. They're a certain length, and contracting them momentarily shortens them, but then they go back to their same length at rest. Training can change the size of a muscle, but not its length.
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