The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates

by Melissa Hawkins

One, an ancient Indian practice originating over 5000 years ago, another, a fairly modern exercise devised in the early twentieth century. We’ve probably been asked this question a million times – what is the difference between yoga and Pilates? 

Both yoga and Pilates are celebrated for their vibrant health benefits. They offer connection to the body, increased flexibility and an emphasis on breathwork. But to put it simply, yoga is a lot more holistic in its practice. Yoga uses breath, movement and meditation to unite mind, body and spirit. And despite both being performed on a mat, they’re completely different workouts. Keep reading – let’s take a look in a little more detail. 

The origins of yoga

Yoga has a rich history spanning 5000 years that intertwines religion and philosophy with exercise and movement. But it wasn’t until 2000 years ago that author of several Sanskrit texts, Patanjali systematised the practice of yoga so that others could follow his work. Since, Patanjali’s work has been credited as the very foundations of yoga as he writes guidance to help the reader achieve peace and fulfilment for the body and mind. 

In the nineteenth century, this practice was introduced to the western world and many teachers and gurus travelled to spread their philosophies and practice. As a result, the practice very quickly became westernised, resulting in the Yoga we love and enjoy too. But despite these changes, Yogis are aware of its deep, historical roots and the various styles that pay homage to them – more on this later.

However, yoga is an organic practice that is forever evolving. It means something different to each style, school, teacher or individual practising the exercise. There’s the freedom to tailor it to ensure that it feels good for you and that is something pretty magical.

yogat at home

Different types of yoga: at a glance

As we mentioned previously, there are many styles and variations of Yoga that have roots in ancient tradition and practice. And in fact, due to Yoga’s wide history, the exact number of styles is probably a tricky number to pin down. But let’s break down the primary types of Yoga that are practised regularly in the western world today.

Yin Yoga:

Influenced by Chinese medicine for its activation and healing properties, Yin Yoga is about improving mobility. By holding a pose for a longer period of time, you can lengthen the structures around the muscles. 

Ashtanga Yoga:

This is the faster-paced yoga that links the poses with a vinyasa. It has progressive sequences that you move into. And you only move onto the next series only when you have mastered the one before it.

Power Yoga:

Taken from Ashtanga, this style is often regarded as the ‘fitness’ version of yoga. However, unlike Ashtanga, it gets rid of the strict set sequences and instead implements arm balances, including handstands, throughout its classes. 

Iyengar Yoga:

This is often practised with props, including blocks, bricks and wedges. You hold poses for an amount of time, then move on to the next. There is no flow between the poses and a lot of detail to each one.

Hot Yoga

A sequence of poses that are held for a certain amount of time. The room is heated to around 40 degrees and you will work up a sweat. 

woman practising yoga by a river

The origins of Pilates

Extremely modern practice in comparison, Pilates takes its name from Joseph Pilates who devised the Pilates method as a new approach to exercise and body conditioning. Joseph studied eastern and western approaches to exercise, from Greek traditions to gymnastics, and after various experiments assisted by some of the pioneers of movement, Pilates was first coined.

In 1923, Joseph moved to America to open his first Pilates studio. It was an instant hit amongst dancers and other athletes who used Pilates as a rehabilitative practice. Gradually, Joseph’s practice of mental and physical conditioning grew in popularity. But what exactly is Pilates? In explaining its guiding principle, Joseph liked to quote Schiller: ‘It is the mind itself which builds the body’. 

Pilates class

The health benefits of yoga and Pilates

Despite their differences, the health benefits of yoga and Pilates are actually reasonably similar. Both practices are great for developing core strength and balance. And many of the poses in yoga and exercises in Pilates involve supporting your body weight and working many different muscles too. Flexibility is also improved through this concentration on different parts of your body at one time 

Practising both yoga and Pilates will also allow you to reap many mental benefits too. In fact, 70% of those who regularly do either exercise say that it relieves stress through breathing techniques and movements that encourage students to align the body with the mind and spirit, taking time to focus on self-care.

Yoga, however, also includes the addition of mediation into many of its styles which designate time during practice to look inward and check-in with yourself. This can have an effective balancing and detoxifying effect on your body and soul. 

Women practising yoga outdoors

Practice what’s right for you

Now you’ve read this blog, you may be sitting there wondering, which one should I practice? And although we are true yogis who live and breathe the restorative benefits of yoga, we will all agree in saying, ultimately it’s completely up to you.

The choice is as much in the mind as the body – if you have a creative brain you may find more freedom in the vibrant flows of yoga, but if you prefer logical thinking, you may benefit from the strong sequences of Pilates.

And if you’re a complete newbie to the game and have no idea where to start – my only advice is to try them both. Find out what works for you and enjoy connecting with your body in whatever way fits. 

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