Pilates vs. Yoga: Which Is Right For You

Pilates or Yoga? Yoga or Pilates?

Some people say they’re similar, some say they couldn’t be more different. Some people practice both, while others are fanatics about only one. Some yogis wouldn’t dare step on a Pilates mat, let alone a reformer (Pilates machine). And some Pilates practitioners look at yoga as a workout wimp-out.

So which one is right for you?

First, here’s a bit of background:

What Is Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient discipline that has been practiced in some form or other for thousands of years. Although many classes now focus more on the physical component — poses (also known as asanas) and breath-work — there is also an emphasis on controlling and calming the mind. The word ‘yoga’ itself means union. Regardless of what style of yoga you practice (and there are many), yoga encourages awareness of the body, the mind and the spirit. Yoga is practiced on a mat.

What Is Pilates?
Pilates is a younger discipline. Created by Joseph Pilates during World War I, it is a body conditioning technique that focuses on strengthening the core and postural muscles, as well as balancing the body through precise and efficient movements. Effective use of the breath and the muscles involved in breathing is a key component of Pilates. Originally practiced on a machine called the Reformer, mat Pilates classes have become the norm at most fitness centers/studios.

Generally, both yoga and Pilates classes can claim similar benefits — awareness of the body, breath control, increased flexibility, improved posture, body balance and strengthening – but in practice they are far from the same. And although many Pilates exercises find their roots in yoga postures, the execution of the moves is very different.

How Do They Differ?

Every Pilates technique emphasizes specificity of movement. There is always a strong focus on proper alignment, exerting control over the muscles and efficient movement of the body.

While some yoga classes and/or teachers are alignment-focused, the emphasis in most yoga classes will be on more than the positioning of the body. A student may also focus on the breath, the thoughts going through the mind, or the flow of movement into the next posture.

Pilates breath involves exhaling on exertion and requires you to engage the core, abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to fully expel the breath. The breath is a key element to mastering Pilates form and in most classes you will hear loud, powerful breathing from the participants. Pilates breath comes in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Yoga breath involves inhaling on extension or when you move away from the ground, and exhaling on flexion or when you fold towards the ground. In yoga the breath is considered the “bridge” between the body and the mind so it is used as a tool to keep participants aware of what is going on in their bodies. A yoga breath comes in through the nose and out through the nose. And although there are various types of breathing techniques that can be involved in yoga classes (i.e.: mula bandha, three-part yogic breath) yogic breathing is a more relaxed breath than the Pilates breath.

Joseph Pilates designed a specific order to the classical Pilates method. Although variations on this routine have developed over the years, the basic fundamentals of a Pilates class will stay the same. A Pilates class will always be technical and concentrate on strengthening the core, buttocks, hips, legs, chest and arms.

Since there are many branches and styles of yoga, there is a huge amount variety in this discipline. Hatha, Iyengar, Power, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Kripalu, Kundalini, Hot Yoga, Moksha are just a few of the yoga styles you can choose from. Whether you’re looking for a tough, vigorous class or a relaxing, restorative class, you can find a style to suit your mood or personality. Regardless of what type of yoga you practice, each class will end with a few minutes of relaxation or savasana.

Pilates classes may involve the use of machines or props — the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Chair — but because of their accessibility, Pilates mat classes have gained popularity. Pilates mats are typically thicker than yoga mats.

Most yoga classes take place in a studio on a mat. Some yoga classes will involve the use of props such as straps, blocks, bolsters or blankets, but many classes are practiced without.
Which One’s Right for You?

The cliche is true — what you put into your workouts is what you will get out. But generally, a yoga class exercises the body, mind and soul, while a Pilates class is a workout for the body. If you’re not looking for introspection, but want to feel your muscles work, then you definitely want to try Pilates. If you’re looking to leave a class with an overall sense of wellbeing, yoga will likely be your thing.

Or why not try both, and get the best of both worlds?
Annabel Fitzsimmons is a yoga and Pilates teacher, runner, writer and mother of two young children. Her online yoga, Pilates and meditation studio is at www.annabelfitzsimmons.ca