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