Pilates vs. Yoga (What is the Difference Between Them?)

Yoga and pilates are often grouped together in the same category, but what many people don’t realize is that they’re actually very different exercise modalities. They both hold some incredible physical and mental health benefits, so in this article we will learn more about the specific differences between each, and decide which one might best suite your needs.

Learn about the differences between pilates and yoga and if one is healthier than the other.

Also keep in mind that there are many different types of both yoga and pilates, so it’s tough to do a simple side by side comparison.

The origin of Yoga and Pilates


First of all, let’s take a moment to look at the history behind each of these modalities. Yoga is a much older practice (dating back approximately 5,000 years) that began in India. Interestingly, some researchers actually believe yoga to be much older than that (perhaps even 10,000 years old), but the ancient texts are difficult to decipher, and much was passed down orally.

The first mention of yoga were in the ancient Veda’s, collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests (1). As time went on, the practices and traditions of yoga transformed and grew, and the most well known and profound yogic scriptures are written in the Bhagavad Gitaa sacred Hindu text. Yoga is deeply rooted in Hinduism, whereas Pilates does not have a religious affiliation.


Pilates is a much newer practice, and was developed specifically as a physical fitness system by Joseph Pilates. His system came about in the early 20th century, and does not encompass the spiritual and meditative philosophies and yoga does. Pilates was created especially to target rehabilitation and strengthening, and was actually originally designed for professional dancers.

While both yoga and pilates incorporate breath with movement, pilates does not focus on or discuss spirituality. Pilates instead focuses on how our breath/movement connection can help us carry out our daily tasks with more efficiency and safety.

What are the main differences between pilates and yoga?

differences between pilates and yoga

This greatly depends on the type of yoga or pilates and the individual instructor, but there are certain components you an expect.

Most yoga practices (except Bikram and Ashtanga which are more rigid) will offer a different posture sequence and focus in each class. For example, one class might focus on hip opening and the next on shoulder strength and flexibility. Typically, yoga classes will also continuously talk about the meditative, breath aspect, and you are less likely to build up a sweat unless you are taking a power yoga class. This is definitely not to say that you won’t get a workout, as even mellower classes definitely have a strength component, but they will also likely include a meditation and/or chanting, for example.

Pilates classes, on the other hand, are a bit more structured and focused on strength based exercises, particularly focusing on core strength. It is a series of exercises either on mat or using pilates machines, and you will “feel the burn,” a bit more than in yoga (in most cases).

Both definitely offer increased flexibility and strength while still focusing on breath control and mindfulness.

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Health benefits of Yoga vs. Pilates

As mentioned above, increased strength and flexibility are two benefits you can expect from both modalities. However, they also offer their own distinct health benefits to the mind and body.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, the following are the evidence-based physical benefits of yoga (2):

Health benefits of Yoga
  1. Increased muscle strength and tone
  2. Increased flexibility
  3. Improved respiration, energy and vitality
  4. Maintaining a balanced metabolism
  5. Weight reduction
  6. Cardio and circulatory health
  7. Improved athletic performance
  8. Protection from injury

But remember, the benefits of yoga are definitely not just physical in nature. Some yogic experts and teachers actually say just the opposite: that the primary benefits of yoga are mental and spiritual.

The Yoga Journal suggests that some of the best benefits of yoga are found in its ability to make you happier, improve your focus and concentration, relax your body systems, help manage your stress levels, improves your sleep quality, gives you peace of mind and higher self esteem, benefits your interpersonal relationships and encourages self care (3).

Health benefits of Pilates

While pilates does focus more on physical vs. mental and spiritual effects, its benefits certainly are vast. Pilates places great focus on correct exercise form, which works wonders for injury prevention and overall strength, particularly core and spinal strength as well as improved posture (also key for injury prevention).

According to pilates.com, this modality offers the following (4):

  1. Improved mind-body connection through breath and movement
  2. Development of a strong core, flat abdominals and a strong back
  3. Gaining long, lean muscles
  4. Gaining flexibility
  5. Improving sports performance
  6. Preventing and healing injuries

Pilates works the entire body and can seriously improve strength and postural alignment. This is why so many professional athletes supplement their training with pilates.

So, which one is better?: Yoga vs. Pilates

The beauty of these two modalities is that they are so different, you can greatly benefit from incorporating both into your fitness routine. If you have any injuries or if rehabilitation if your goal, be sure that the instructor of any yoga or pilates class you choose is well educated and experienced in this realm. More often, pilates teachers can better handle injury rehabilitation and prevention, although some yoga teachers can, too.

If you are looking for a more active, strength focused modality, pilates might be more up your alley, or a power, ashtanga or bikram class (Bikram is done in an extremely heated room). If a more meditative, calming class is what you’re looking for, try a yin or restorative yoga class, which focus more on holding passive postures for a longer amount of time.

If developing your spiritual practice is something you want in a class, yoga is definitely the way to go. Remember that many power yoga classes (not a traditional type of yoga but one developed more for physical fitness) will focus less on spirituality, chanting and/or meditation than other types of practices.

Many pilates and yoga studios will offer a free or discounted first class or week of classes, so don’t be afraid to try out different studios, instructors and types of classes to see what speaks to you. Neither pilates or yoga are cheap, so make your decision wisely.

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