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It’s a common misconception that yoga and pilates are just two names for essentially the same thing. This isn’t the case – while it’s true they share similarities, they’re different practices with different focuses.

So, what’s the difference between yoga and pilates?

First, we’ll explain the similarities

Yoga and pilates are both forms of exercise which focus on strength and stability. They also both incorporate an element of mindfulness which helps you perform slow, controlled movements which help you build good posture.

They’re both suitable for all ages and just about everyone can benefit from both yoga and pilates.

Now, the differences

Yoga is focused more on the holistic mind, body and spirit connection to movement. Yoga involves rhythmic breathing and the holding still of poses.

Pilates has a focus on building the core muscles with strength training and keeping the spine in alignment for optimum posture.

Read on to find out more about both yoga and pilates.

What is yoga?

Dating back at least 5000 years, yoga is an ancient practice which can be traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation in India.1 Yoga became extremely popular in the west during the late 20th century and yoga studios are now commonplace across the UK. Despite not being a religion itself, yoga has its roots in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions and there are spiritual undertones to some of yoga’s elements, such as chanting mantras or references to ‘prana’ (meaning life force).2

In western practice, yoga isn’t considered religious so much as spiritual in a personal sense. Yoga is about finding a holistic balance in your mind, body and spirit.

Breathing is a key element in yoga practice. Each yoga session is underpinned by yogic breathing (or ‘pranayama’), which is when the person synchronises their breath with the flowing movements of the yoga poses.

Yoga is considered meditative, as the mind is focused on controlled movements and the harmonising of the breath.

Much like cycling or power-walking, yoga also counts as a cardiovascular workout. This means yoga helps burn calories, contributes to general health and helps avoid cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes.3

You don’t typically need any equipment to perform yoga, just a mat.

Sub-types of yoga include:4
  • Hatha – relaxing and slow. The most common type of yoga practiced in the UK.
  • Ashtanga – more athletic and challenging. Ashtanga classes follow a single sequence.
  • Bikram  (hot) yoga – held in an artificially heated room, you’re sure to sweat!

  • Iyengar – focused on correct alignment, often using props such as blocks.
  • Sivananda –12 specific postures performed in order with relaxation in between.5

What is pilates?

A much newer form of exercise, pilates was developed by German fitness expert Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s. Affected by asthma and rickets as a child, he designed his own exercise system to build his strength and help improve his respiratory health.6 Using influences from yoga, martial arts, gymnastics and resistance training, pilates encompasses a range of movements and exercises which build strength, improve spine alignment and promote deep and controlled breathing.7 Although some movements are done on a mat, such as in yoga, pilates also involves special apparatus developed by Joseph Pilates such as the ‘reformer’, ‘Cadillac’ and ‘spine corrector’. These machines offer support to those with limited mobility, making pilates an excellent choice for the elderly or those recovering from injury or illness.8

Pilates is recommended for helping to prevent spinal or muscular injuries, as it strengthens the muscles which support the spine and improves posture.

Under the guidance of a medical professional, pilates is also great for rehabilitation following injury and is believed to improve muscle tone, joint mobility and overall balance.9

Which is better - yoga or pilates?

Not sure which is a better choice, yoga or pilates?

We suggest yoga if you:

  • Are looking for an exercise which involves meditation
  • Are experiencing stress or anxiety
  • Want to tone your muscles
  • Want to be able to practice anywhere, any time

We suggest pilates if you:

  • Are recovering from an injury
  • Are looking to improve your posture
  • Wish to increase muscle strength
  • Are concerned about joint mobility

Last updated: 15 October 2020

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