The Difference Between Pilates and Yoga

What is the Difference Between Pilates and Yoga?

This is a question I have heard many times over the years.  However, I  have always been reluctant to answer because I couldn’t answer as I’d not experienced enough Yoga.

I haven’t particularly enjoyed my Lockdown life but I must admit there has been one outstanding benefit: I have had time for more self practice in Pilates and have finally done Yoga regularly

I have done Iyengar, Yin, and Hatha.  That is not all that yoga has to offer and I’ve avoided Flow classes because I didn’t know the poses well enough

Finally I feel I can attempt to answer more the question.    Some of you will have different perspectives, a different agenda for your movement practice perhaps.  This is, I suppose, an opinion piece not a series of facts

To answer the question I feel I need to define what is Yoga and what is Pilates first.

What is Pilates?

An exercise system developed in the 20th Century by the eponymous inventor: Joseph Pilates.  Here is another blog post where I have talked a bit about his history and legacy

In the classical tradition of Pilates, with Matwork, you follow the exercises exactly as laid down by the man himself.  There is a whole other world of Pilates machinery but for our comparison we’ll stick to the Matwork exercises

What is it for? a movement system designed to harness the power of the breath, the body and  the mind, to develop suppleness and strength throughout the body and stamina to take forwards and use in daily life.   Joseph Pilates talked about enhancing your Zest for life.

In the contemporary field Pilates has escaped the confines of that which Joseph Pilates developed in order to encompass many exercises designed to promote good movement.  I am most definitely in this camp and use Pilates as a framework in order to find ways to help give the body a positive movement experience and enhance the quality of movement

In contemporary Pilates there tends to be as many iterations of Pilates as there are instructors.  It is a very young discipline and it is evolving.

It is known for a focus on alignment, posture, precision and being good for rehab.  Less helpful is that it is known for being good for giving you a flat stomach and for working the core.   The latter has not served our bodies well, (more on this here)  but has catapulted Pilates into the stratosphere of successful exercise regimes

What is Yoga?

I don’t know enough about Yoga to truly answer the question.  This is just my fairly superficial assessment/opinion.

Firstly we are talking , for the sake of the comparison, about the Asanas: the Yoga Poses rather than the the other aspects of holistic yoga practice.  This is a really crucial difference.  Yoga is about more than the exercises but inevitably Yoga is often seen as being about the Exercise, the Poses, the physical body work

It is 1000s of years in the making, and not just decades.

The poses are not just about strength, flexibility and mobility of the joints as Pilates is. They have special purposes beyond merely muscle/joint/bone stuff.  For some people this is critical and so, no amount of great Pilates can compare if you want a pose that helps the kidneys for example.     There is very little inversion in Pilates because the focus on energy flow didn’t lead to them being included in the exercise canon

I have wondered to myself if Yoga, being about the poses is about the destination and Pilates, with its focus on form and alignment, is about the journey.

How are they similar?

  • mind/body connection
  • importance of the breath
  • practice will make you physically stronger, keep your joints mobile, and keep your muscles flexible
  • huge variety of types
  • huge variety of exercises
  • poses/exercises performed standing, sitting, lying, all fours
  • can be done in groups or alone
  • best done regularly and consistently

Yet another question: How does it make you feel?

For me, if it is just about the body (if indeed you can say that) then to be honest, this is the most valid question.

How do you chose between them?

How about you don’t!

Perhaps this comes down to practicalities: availability of the class, the time, the cost etc. 

Can it assist with rehab if that is what you need.  The practice needs to meet your body where it is, not hit you with impossible stuff that makes you feel inadequate

Is it all ego? All about the look, the gear, and who can do the most (on the outside): All fur coat, no knickers with lots of half naked flaunting about?   So no fur coat really…….  Sadly they both suffer with that.

Does it help you in some way?  Do you feel calmer, stronger, happier, more supple.  Do you move better: getting down on the floor, picking stuff up, turning to reverse the car, doing up a zip at the back of your clothing.  Has it changed you,  in that you feel better

Is the pace just about right?   Yoga practices differs massively in this regard and so does Pilates.  They can be impossible, hard or easier,  flowing vs discreet exercises, even though Yoga tends to be a static pose and Pilates is repetitions of an exercise

Standard of tuition. Both suffer from deregulation of Teacher Training and you can gain qualifications in both after just a couple of weekends.  This should really be called Fitness Yoga or Fitness Pilates and is intended for classes in gyms.  In my view this is preferable to the Wild West of downloadable online courses with no face to  face tuition at all.  Becoming a good teacher is an expensive, time consuming business.  Regardless of your qualifications,  being a kind, welcoming Teacher who includes everyone doesn’t cost anything.

To summarise

Do you enjoy it?

or, and

Does it help your body, even if it feels a bit like a chore. I know many people who find Yoga and Pilates too slow, who prefer Cardio.   This can be, in a good way, mindlessly mindful, as opposed to the more mindfully mindful practice of a mind/body format like Yoga or like Pilates.  For you guys perhaps you recognise the benefits and take your exercise medicine dutifully without expecting to be happy or pleased

How do I choose

I don’t any more or at least not for the last year or so.    For years I have not had the time to go to a yoga class on a regular basis although I briefly dabbled.

Boy oh boy, do I enjoy Pilates for its own sake.  I enjoy the challenges (sometimes) and the endless movement possibilities.   My body is all the  better for it.  In addition I  also have an agenda to improve my ability to do the exercises and gain greater awareness of the exercises so that I can teach them more effectively.  My passion is for using Pilates to help other people but (and don’t tell anyone this)  I can see that, like in  the the film Sliding Doors, with a different twist of fate I could equally have ended up teaching and using Yoga for the same purpose.

I enjoy Yoga because teachers are operating from a different  standpoint and it is extremely helpful and interesting for me to hear that and try to operate from that perspective

Thank you Yoga for what you lack:  huge focus on Abdominal work.  I have chronic injury and IBS stuff  going on with my abdominal region and  find most Ab work almost impossible and then I feel crap for not being able to do it

I am very grateful to Yoga for involving poses that test me where I need it: to help my tight hips and inner thighs.  Trust me, it is not a pretty sight observing me in a Warrior pose.

A  Final Question

Maybe it is more helpful to ask, not how do they differ, but how do they complement each other?

Or to counter  “what is the difference between Pilates and Yoga?”  with another question.  “Does it matter?”   In the physical realm of the body, or relating to mind/body awareness, probably not.

If you are interested in getting stronger and crucially, more supple, in moving with more freedom, Yoga and Pilates stand comparison.  If you wish to feel better emotionally, calmer, more connected to your body in a positive way  Yoga and Pilates stand comparison.     At the same time, it then ceases to matter what the differences are.

Author doing Downward Dog Yoga Pose

Author doing Yoga: the Triangle poseAuthor's daughter doing Child Pose in YOga

My Yin Yoga online is with Catrin Osbourne who can be found at  She also teaches my son who does her Teen Yoga session each week.

I do my Iyengar Yoga online with Gerda Bayliss who can be found at  Gerda is like me and perhaps most of you, based in Leeds so hopefully we can look forwards to some live yoga later in the year.  She specialises in helping with people recovering from Long Covid

Finally, my  Hatha Yoga online with Krissy Bonner.  She has no website but message me if you would like details.

All of these wonderful Tutors are calm,  experienced and knowledgeable.  You will be in in safe hands

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