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Yoga vs Pilates – Which Is Better?

What’s the difference between yoga and pilates and which one is ‘right’ for you, will depend on what you are looking for and what your overall fitness goals are.

This article discusses origins, differences and benefits of yoga vs pilates, and will help clear up any confusion you may have by exploring the major differences of each.

Keep reading to discover whether yoga or pilates is better for:

  • A workout
  • Stress relief and mindfulness
  • Core strength
  • Back Pain
  • Runners
  • Weight loss
  • Toning
  • Flexibility
  • Heart health

The origins of yoga and pilates

Yoga originated in India more than 5000 years ago and has evolved over the years as it spread throughout the world and through different cultures. Many different yoga schools have created their own types of yoga, some you may have heard of: Ashtanga, Kripalu, Vinyasa flow, Bikram, Yin Yoga and the list goes on and on.

Pilates on the other hand, was created early in the 20th century by Joseph Pilates in the United Kingdom as a form of rehabilitation. Dancers and rehabilitation specialists have utilised this strengthening and alignment based practice which has helped promote it to the mainstream.

history of yoga vs pilates

The difference between yoga and pilates classes

There are thousands of variations in postures and sequences that could be integrated into a yoga class so what you will experience depends on the style being taught and who is teaching it. Bikram and Ashtanga have a set plan where you will repeat the same sequence of postures. Most yoga classes will open with a self-awareness theme, take you through a series of breath work and poses, and finish with a meditation.

See also The Best Essential Oils For Meditation

Pilates classes are structured around exercising your body and mind. Due to the infinite themes yoga classes can take on, you are more likely to know what to expect when you walk into a pilates class than in a yoga class. Some classes and one-on-one sessions use machines, while others are based on a mat and use body weight to challenge you.

Yoga vs pilates for a workout

In both practices you will gain strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and endurance. Yoga will work every muscle in your body, with each posture being followed by a counter posture to create balance and harmony. The focus of the practice is on being present within the moment each pose and the transition between each, rather than just doing a workout.

So what kind of workout is pilates? Pilates is a total body workout with a focus on spinal alignment and core stability. Joseph Pilates presents his method as the art of controlled movements which should look and feel like a workout when properly manifested.

Yoga vs pilates for stress relief & mindfulness

While both practices contain mindfulness, they do so quite differently.

Pilates focuses on creating an understanding that the mind and body is connected, and how an awareness of this can help your posture and mental wellbeing in everyday life.

Yoga on the other hand, creates a deeper sense of calm by going into the depths of consciousness, spirituality and self-actualisation, through union of the body and mind.

If you want to reduce stress, improve your ability to remain in the present moment, relax and even improve your sleep, then yoga is the one for you.

See also A Bedtime Yoga Sequence To Help You Sleep

meditation essential oil blend

Yoga vs pilates for core strength

If your sole focus is to improve your posture and strengthen your core then pilates is most likely the better fit. Working with an experienced teacher will help you get the support you need.

Yoga vs pilates for back pain

Does yoga or pilates relieve back pain? Is there a difference between the two and which is best? I get this question a lot from my clients. And the answer? Well, it depends on who is asking!

The reason I can’t give a definitive answer here is because in my opinion, there are so few differences in yoga vs pilates, and while both these exercise programs do help relieve chronic back pain, it does not necessarily follow that one is better than the other.

In my opinion both pilates and yoga are fundamental to healthy back care management, and long term back pain relief, once taught appropriately with your specific back problem in mind.

But which is better for back pain – pilates or yoga? Well both disciplines are of great value in the management and treatment of back and neck pain – once they are taught correctly. I generally advise people who are experiencing back pain to do pilates rather than yoga, because of the focus that pilates has on core strength – and core strength and strength building are essential requirements of any rehabilitation exercise program. However, for cases where mobility is the problem – and you are not experiencing pain – then yoga may be of greater benefit to your back care management.

Yoga vs pilates for runners

Yoga can be beneficial for runners because it stretches and brings an awareness to muscles, tendons and ligaments that can be tight and stressed stressed due to over-use while running. The stretching and awareness can help create flexibility and energy in these parts of the body to better support your running.

See also Yoga For Runners – The Perfect 20 Minute Practice

That said, pilates can be beneficial to runners, as it strengthens your core muscles and will help you develop better balance. Posture is incredibly important for running and pilates will aim to improve your alignment, which will help your overall muscle movements, and reduce the risk of injury while running.

Yoga vs pilates for weight loss

If your biggest goal is to lose weight then yoga or pilates should be practiced in addition to a workout routine. They should not be the only forms of exercise that you practice.

The amount of calories burned during pilates will vary based on class and level of intensity. It’s safe to say that with yoga and pilates a person will roughly burn between 120 and 220 per half hour. This also depends on how much you weight and the intensity at which you preform the workout

The bottom line with weight loss is that either one would be beneficial if you supplement it with cardio, resistance training or HIIT workouts and a healthy, balanced diet.

Yoga vs pilates for toning

With the question of toning your body and building firm muscles, pilates is a better choice since it has a strong focus on building and strengthening your core muscle groups. Pilates creates and emphasis on toning where as yoga is more focused on flexibility.

origins of yoga

Yoga vs pilates for flexibility

Pilates and yoga can both increase flexibility. Yoga does so while focusing on multiple muscle groups, while Pilates focuses primarily on core strength and spine flexibility. Both can potentially help with flexibility.

Yoga vs pilates for heart health

Depending on the style of yoga you practice, it may provide you with only a little cardio benefit. It’s best to speak to your potential teacher / studio about the level and paces of their classes to gauge how much you’ll get your heart rate up and what’s appropriate for your body.

As for pilates, beginner classes won’t give you much of a cardio workout (probably the equivalent of going on a walk). However once you gain experience and reach a higher level the cardio activity will move up, reaching the equivalent of speed walking.

See also: How Pilates During Pregnancy Can Be Good For Your Health

So which is better – yoga or pilates?

At the end of the day, one is not better than the other. Pilates and yoga combined may even work best for you! You can practice pilates and yoga at home, or go to group classes, or have private sessions with a teacher. It all depends on what your goals are. If your primary goal is an increased mind-body awareness, a greater sense of calm and a grounding practice, yoga may be better for you.  If you would like to focus more on toning, strengthening your muscle groups and core then pilates could be your friend.

See also 12 Days Of Self-Care Journalling Prompts (+ Beautiful Journals To Scribble Your Thoughts Into)

If you’re still unsure (and even if you have made a decision), why not go to a few classes of each, and then decide?

Now it’s your turn. Do you practice yoga, pilates or both? Do you you have a preference and if yes, why? 

P.S. Who do you know that’s trying to decide whether they should be practicing yoga or pilates? Share this with them now via one of the big share buttons below. They’ll thank you for it later!

Kirsten Scott Holistic Health Coach

Kirsten is a Bondi-based Holistic Health Coach, Certified Yoga and Meditation Instructor, Pilates Teacher & Functional Movement Trainer, with a passion for all things wellness. When she isn't working with clients you can find Kirsten on the yoga mat, swimming down at Bondi Beach, sipping on green smoothies and laughing way too hard at her own jokes.

SHOWHIDE Comments (3)
  1. I enjoy pilates and yoga combined. I agree they are both good depending on the goal you’re after so for me I do both 🙂

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