Fitness / Yoga

7 Key Differences Between Yoga and Pilates

These basic differences between these two popular toning exercises can help you decide which is best for you.

Curiosity is probably one of the best qualities that an avid exerciser can possess. It keeps you intrigued and excited to try new and different types of exercises and Aaptiv classes.

Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to determine which exercises are best-suited for your strengths, your goals, and your body. Many people, for example, have a tough time choosing between yoga and Pilates.

The two exercises are often considered similar, but are, in fact, starkly different.

Here’s a basic guide to help you understand the ways in which these two popular exercises differ so that you can choose the one that’s best for you—or try them both!

The Varying Histories of Yoga and Pilates

Yoga is a sacred tradition that spawned in India some 5,000+ years ago. Its purpose was to connect the individual consciousness to the universal blissful consciousness.

“Together with asanas (postures), breath control, and simple meditation, it improves your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health,” explains Nichola Dunne, yoga instructor at YogaWorks in Brentwood, California.

“The repetition of the asanas and the attention to the details of the poses, helps to calm and quiet the busy mind while building flexibility and strength.”

Pilates is more new-age, although it’s been around for nearly a century. “Pilates was founded around 1925 by Joseph Pilates and was mostly used for physical rehabilitation,” according to Dunne.

“The main goal is to strengthen the core, improve posture, stabilize and elongate the spine, and develop balance and overall strength.” It’s since changed and developed dramatically over the course of the last several decades.

However, it’s main goals of strengthening the core, improving posture, stabilizing and elongating the spine, and developing balance and overall strength, remains intact, Dunne adds.

Aaptiv has yoga workouts that can help strengthen and tone your core. Download the app today and see all our workout classes.

More Than Just a Mat

While both exercises work the body in effective ways, they utilize totally different equipment. For example, Pilates uses machines such as the reformer, Cadillac, wunda chair, spine corrector, small barrel, tower, etc.

“These machines (for the most part) use a pulley system with varying springs for resistance and are used to assist the body in perfecting alignment, improving strength, and improving inconsistencies in the body,” explains Kit Rich, Los Angeles-based Pilates and fitness instructor who’s worked with Ke$ha and other celebs.

Yoga, on the other hand, uses mainly a mat, as well as minor equipment to aid in the poses, such as blocks, straps, or a blanket.

The Spiritual Component

This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between yoga and Pilates. To put it simply, yoga is a meditative practice.

This means that it works your mind just as much, if not more than your body. It also focuses on breathing techniques to help reduce stress, explains Stephanie George, certified yoga instructor and personal trainer.

“Pilates is more of a traditional exercise routine originally developed to help injured athletes, whereas yoga was created as a path to spiritual enlightenment through a series of poses,” she says.

The Method

The mind-body connection is the center of yoga. Therefore, it forgoes exercise machines of any kind. Instead, it allows the body itself to serve as resistance.

For this reason, the class runs starkly different from a Pilates class. “In yoga, each class typically ends with a guided meditation and savasana (relaxation).

While most Pilates classes incorporate equipment that’s used to challenge the body to ‘turn on’ and control muscles and body positioning in unstable environments,” says Sara Grout, master trainer and Pilates instructor at Club Pilates in the Denver area.

“Because of the ability to build stability in the core and throughout the body, Pilates is often used as a rehabilitation tool.” In fact, she also points out that many physical therapists use Pilates as part of their repertoire. Or they recommend clients begin doing Pilates once they have finished with physical therapy.

The Moves

The poses and moves performed during yoga and Pilates are quite different. The amount of time spent holding them is also quite different.

Typically, in yoga, you hold poses for far longer. This allows you to fall more deeply into each pose. You often repeat the flow of these moves, which you do not always do in Pilates, adds Rich.

In classic Pilates, you do not hold poses or repeat them in sequences in the same session. “The movements are shorter and with few repetitions with a major focus on control and precision. But once the move is done, you are onto a completely different move,” says Rich.

“However, both yoga and Pilates have the same goal of focusing on technique, breathing, and alignment when doing the poses.”

The Intention

Yoga emphasizes the mind-body and spiritual connection, and aims to focus the attention of the practitioner inward, Grout explains.

However, she continues, Pilates pays attention to the alignment of the body, in addition to the precision and control of each movement. “The focus is on the control of the movement,” she adds.

“Originally, Joseph Pilates designed these particular movements systematically with careful thought to their progression and benefit to the body.”

The End Result

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve from attending class, one or the other exercise might be more well-suited for you. As Rich explains, yoga works your entire body, whereas Pilates mainly focuses on the powerhouse muscles.

These are the deep muscles of the core and the muscles of the spine and hips, such as the lats and outer thighs. “If you’re taking a flow yoga class, it often focuses on the extremities—the arms and legs,” she adds. View our top yoga trainers in the Aaptiv app today.

It also depends on what you want to experience during class. If you’re looking for something more physical, George suggests going with Pilates.

But if you’re looking for something more mental, she suggests choosing yoga. “Many people choose to do both, however, and reap the benefits of a long lean body and clear mind free from stress!”

Fitness Yoga


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