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Yoga and Pilates - what's the difference?

Yoga or Pilates?

Yoga and Pilates are hot right now and the number of people who are doing Yoga classes and Pilates classes for improved fitness and weight loss is growing.

This article explains what Yoga and Pilates are all about and explores the differences and similarities between them so you can decide which one can help you achieve your goal and fit in with your current level of fitness and lifestyle.

Yoga Basics

Various forms of Yoga have been practiced for thousands of years but in recent times practicing celebrities like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Sting, Rachel Welsh, Candice Bergen and even Ricky Martin have raised its profile in countries like America, Australia and Britain.

Yoga is principally a life philosophy which encompassed ethical and spiritual values as well as a series of poses (called 'Asana') which happen to be very beneficial to the workings of the body and building a mind-body connection.

Yoga posses were originally invented so Yoga practitioners could hold their bodies in static positions for long periods while they were meditating, but because they are isometric (which means they rely on holding muscle tension), they also help build stronger muscles.

There are many different styles of Yoga practiced around the world, but the most common styles practiced in Australia include:

  • Ashtanga Yoga.
  • Bikram Yoga.
  • Hatha Yoga.
  • Iyengar Yoga.
  • Kundalini Yoga.
  • Vinyasa Yoga.

Pilates Basics

Pilates was first born in the early 1900's when a man named Joseph Pilates devised a series of exercises to help injured World War I soldiers recover from battle injuries.

In time, Pilates became very popular among ballet dancers because it helped them to maintain strong, lean muscles.

Like Yoga, Pilates has become very popular lately thanks to celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Kim Catrall, Cindy Crawford, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sharon Stone, Uma Therman, Charlize Theron and Hugh Grant who all do Pilates to stay in shape.

Unlike Yoga however, Pilates isn't a life philosophy, it is simply a series of exercises designed to improve the strength of our core muscles around the abdominals, hips and lower back.

There are two basic forms of Pilates, mat-based Pilates and equipment-based Pilates.

Mat-based Pilates, which is the most popular form of Pilates, is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and our own body weight to provide resistance.

Equipment-based Pilates, as the name suggests, uses specially designed equipment and accessories to provide muscle resistance.

Benefits of doing Yoga or Pilates

Among its many benefits, Yoga is said to:

  • Increase flexibility.
  • Increase strength and vitality.
  • Strengthen the immune system.
  • Improve circulation.
  • Strengthen and tone muscles.
  • Facilitate weight loss.
  • Improve balance.
  • Help manage chronic health conditions such as asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, back pain, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
  • Improve concentration and focus.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Encourage the connection of our physical, mental and spiritual selves.

Among its many benefits, Pilates is said to:

  • Help us maintain a strong, flexible spine.
  • Provide a greater awareness of our posture.
  • Tone and build long, lean muscles.
  • Strengthen deep abdominal muscles.
  • Help with motivation by engaging our mind and enhancing body awareness.
  • Reduce stress, relieve tension and boost energy.
  • Help restore postural alignment.
  • Promote recovery from strain or injury.
  • Increase the range of motion of joints.
  • Improve circulation.
  • Offer relief from back pain and joint stress.
  • Compliment sports training and develop functional fitness for daily life.
  • Improve the way our body looks and feels.
  • Help women return to their pre-pregnancy figure after giving birth.
  • Provide a kinder and gentler way to exercise.

Similarities between Yoga and Pilates

Both Yoga and Pilates are considered to be mind-body exercises.

What all mind-body exercises have in common is that they require the right balance of mindfulness, correct postures and concentrated breathing to enjoy all the benefits they have to offer.

Yoga and Pilates both involve "mindful movement". Unlike walking or jogging, where our movement is automatic, practicing Yoga and Pilates requires us to be totally focused on what our body and muscles are doing.

Correct postures are very important to both styles and getting these postures correct takes time and practice.

Differences between Yoga and Pilates

As you can see, there are many similarities between Yoga and Pilates and they share some common benefits.

But there are also differences.

From a purely exercise perspective, these differences mainly have to do with how each discipline is practiced and what their primary goals are.

Primarily, Yoga is designed to facilitate serious contemplation. In other words, it tries to provide an integrated approach towards objective and transcendental knowledge. Stronger muscles, stress relief and improved circulation are essentially by-products of practicing Yoga.

Pilates on the other hand, primarily tries to strengthen the core stability muscles of our body to improve the way we function in our daily lives.

Yoga exercises themselves are typically static poses that are held for a period of time, say for one minute each for example. It is the holding of these poses and the transition from one pose to the next that provides stimulation to our muscles.

Because it involves poses that challenge the whole body, Yoga tends to exercise almost every muscle in the body while Pilates simply tries to exercise the deep core stabilizer muscles around our stomach and hips.

To perform Yoga poses and Pilates movements properly and for maximum affect takes practice, but unlike Yoga poses which not all students can comfortably get into straight away (because of inflexibility or lack of strength in some muscles), most Pilates movements can be performed by complete novices (they just might not be able to do all of the required repetitions right away).

A very important part of Yoga is the deep breathing that is done while holding each pose and while transitioning from one pose to the next.

Breathing is also a very important part of performing Pilates exercises, but Pilates exercises are not all static poses, mainly they are movements which are done for a certain number of repetitions.

In addition, Pilates has only one basic style of breathing, which is called "ribcage breathing". The purpose of this style of breathing is to stabilize and protect our spine while we are in different positions by holding our abdominal muscles tight while still allowing us to take deep breaths.

Yoga, meanwhile, has many styles of breathing that are used for many different purposes.

For example, there are breathing techniques for relaxation, focus, energy and deep meditation.

Another difference between the breathing of Yoga and Pilates is that in Yoga, you use your nose to inhale and exhale while in Pilates, you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

Finally, Yoga classes often use music and sometimes integrate chanting or affirmations, which are designed to address the meditative side of the practice. Pilates classes on the other hand are usually done in very quiet environments where music, talk and other distractions are kept to a minimum.

The cost and availability of Yoga and Pilates Classes

The cost of doing Yoga or Pilates classes at specialist Yoga centres or Pilates studios are roughly the same.

Increasingly, many gyms and fitness centres now offer Yoga and mat-based Pilates classes just as they offer Aerobic, Pump, Boxercise and Spin classes.

Because there are many more different types of Yoga, some styles aren't always readily available and you may have to travel a little further to do them or find them a little more difficult to locate.

Should you do Yoga or Pilates?

The choice between doing Yoga or Pilates is a personal one.

Sometimes this choice may simply come down to convenience and having a Yoga centre or Pilates studio close to home or work.

If you are lucky and have both available on your doorstep, perhaps you can try each first before deciding.

Generally speaking, you don't need to be overly flexible or strong to do Pilates, whereas with Yoga even some of the very basic poses require a degree of flexibility and strength, so if you are new to exercise or your current level of fitness is relatively poor, you may find Pilates the best choice to begin with.

Even if you decide to do Yoga later, you'll benefit from the strong mid-section that Pilates will give you and this strength will come in very handy during Yoga classes.

If you are already reasonably strong and flexible and you want a more vigorous workout that gets you sweating and burning a maximum number of kilojoules or calories per class and you are looking for more than just exercise out of your classes, it is more likely that Yoga will be your best bet.

It doesn't need to be an either-or choice

Regardless of whether you decide to do Yoga or Pilates now, long term we could all benefit from including both in our exercise routine.
In fact, many instructors who are trained in both forms of exercise are starting to combine Yoga poses and core strengthening Pilates exercises into one class so that those of us who are time poor can benefit from both during the same session and at the one location.

Remember, no single training system can give our body all the types of conditioning it needs. Particularly if you are trying to lose weight and sometime have trouble with exercise motivation, the best recommendation anyone can give you is to try everything and regularly do a variety of things and see what works best for you.


Yoga and Pilates are hot right now and the number of people who are doing classes for improved fitness and weight loss is growing rapidly.

This article explained what Yoga and Pilates are all about and explored the differences and similarities between them in an effort to help you decide which one is the most likely to help you achieve your goal and fit in best with your current level of fitness and lifestyle.

We hope you enjoyed this article and thank you for visiting weightloss.com.au.

Copyright Ultimate Weightloss.

This article was written by Scott Haywood.

Scott is the editor of weightloss.com.au. Scott has developed an expertise in fitness and nutrition, and their roles in weight loss, which led him to launch weightloss.com.au in 2005. Today, weightloss.com.au provides weight loss and fitness information, including hundreds of healthy recipes, weight loss tools and tips, articles, and more, to millions of people around the world, helping them to lead happier, healthier, lives.

You can follow Scott on Google+ for more interesting articles.

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