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Differences and Similarities Between Pilates and Yoga

Posted Aug 24 2008 3:43pm

Many people familiar with yoga are curious about pilates. What are the differences between pilates and yoga? Is one better than the other? Here are some similarities and differences between the two methods!

First, I'd like to point out that neither pilates nor yoga is better than the other, they are just different from each other. Great benefits can be gained from doing one or the other, or both.


One big difference between pilates and yoga is the types of breathing. In yoga, there are a few different types of breating, depending on the style of yoga, the focus of the class or exercise, and the intentions of the teacher. One type of yogic breathing is audible and throaty, known as the ujjayi breath. It is a deep breathing that helps to focus and center the mind. Also in yoga, the belly is encouraged to rise and fall with the breath. All the yoga poses flow with the breath.

In pilates, exercises also flow with the breath, though the type of breathing is very different. During pilates, one goal is to stay connected into the center the whole time, which includes during inhalation. The belly is not to rise and fall with breath. Instead, the focus is more on breathing in and up into the upper back.

In both yoga and pilates, a nice way to focus and connect to the movements is through the breath. However, unlike yoga breathing, in pilates, the breath is usually not as audible as it is in yoga.

The Spiritual Element

Yoga literally translates to, "One with God". Yoga is a spiritually based discipline. Classes usually include chanting, meditation, and passages read aloud by the teacher. Incense is sometimes burned during class, and there are spiritual statues found around the studio.

Pilates is not spiritually based in the ways that yoga is. Joseph Pilates did intend pilates to be "complete coordination of the mind, body, and spirit", and anyone who practices pilates knows that it does boost the spirit- the spirit soars along with the flow of exercises in a very invigorating way. However, pilates does not include any of the spiritual elements I listed above. Many people who feel uncomfortable with chanting in yoga, love pilates because there's no chanting!

The Focus of the Class

In both pilates and yoga, there is a focus on strengthening and stretching the whole body. In yoga, poses are often held for a period of time, while in pilates, the exercises are more rhythmical.

At the same time, a pilates mat class can flow and move in similar ways to a vinyasa yoga class.

Pilates and yoga also both focus on stretching while strengthening, as each movement is not only an exercise, but also a stretch.

In general, pilates classes are typically more "exercisey" than yoga classes, because of the emphasis on the core, and also because the equipment adds a strength training element. That's not to say that you'll never walk out of a yoga class in a sweat, though!

The Length of the Class

It seems like a small difference, but to many people, the length of the class is a really important factor when they're deciding whether or not to take a pilates or yoga class. Yoga classes are 1 1/2 hour long, though many studios do have lunchtime classes of just 1 hour. Pilates classes are just 1 hour, and many studios have only 45 minute classes. And that's not figuring in the time it takes to get to and from the class.

As a pilates instructor, I often hear that people don't have time to take a yoga class and would rather come to pilates for a quicker, more intense workout.

The Positions Your Body is In

In yoga classes, there are many more standing exercises, and more different types of movements in general. There are more exercises that focus on shoulder stability, standing balances, and of course there are also the head/hand stands.

In pilates, there are standing, kneeling, sidelying, sitting, supine, and prone exercises, but if you take a mat class, you will typically do most of the exercises laying on your back. This is seen as a plus to some people! If you're lucky, your pilates mat class teacher will include standing and kneeling exercises to spice things up a bit!

If you take a tower or reformer class, you're more likely to move your body in a wider range of positions than in a mat class.

As you can see from my post, it doesn't appear that pilates or yoga is "better" than the other. There are similarities and differences, and you really have to choose which classes and teachers speak to you the most! Ideally, you can find a balance between pilates and yoga, so that all your needs are met. Read more!

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