Pilates & Yoga -- Similar Yet Different

Pilates and yoga are similar in that they are both exercise systems, typically done on a mat on the floor, that build strength and flexibility and balance.  They share some key concepts such as breathing, deep focus and smooth, low impact movements.  Even though they are similar, Pilates and yoga are not one in the same. Each has its emphasis on different aspects of exercise and the strengths and goals of each differ.


Yoga Overview

Yoga originated in ancient India, and the practice spread to many parts of the world. It is now a popular exercise for many westerners as well as easterners.  Yoga is not just exercises to increase physical strength and flexibility, but also to create balance in the body, mind and spirit.  Yoga is more than an exercise; it is a lifestyle.


Pilates Overview

A German, Joseph Pilates, developed the exercise in the 1920s to help World War II veterans rehabilitate from injures.  Pilates is similar to yoga but without the spiritual aspect that yoga has, and with an increased focus on strength building. Like yoga, Pilates also focuses on flexibility, coordination, balance and breath.  You can practice Pilates with special equipment such as a reformer or  simply practice it on an exercise mat without props.

Which exercise is better for you – yoga or Pilates?  The answer depends what you are looking for in a fitness routine.  Read the Pilates vs. yoga faceoff to help you decide which one is the better exercise plan for you.

If you are trying to…


Build Muscle Strength

Pilates is your best bet.  Pilates builds core strength by precise, smooth and focused repetitions that isolate and strengthen the large muscle groups.  Compared to yoga, Pilates is more physically intensive, where yoga’s objective is less focused on strength and more about balancing and unifying the body, mind and spirit.  Pilates targets the large muscle groups -- abs, back, glutes, shoulders, legs and arms -- to a greater degree than yoga does.


Tone and Sculpt Your Body

Again, Pilates is the better choice. The smooth, controlled motions with continuous resistance builds muscle strength without creating bulk to give your body a toned, lean and strong look.  Pilates provides a balanced, whole body workout, focusing on core strength as its foundation, and incorporating large and small muscle groups as well.  The exercises sculpt abs and add definition to shoulders and arms for a lean and strong look.


Increase flexibility

Yoga is the way to go.  Although Pilates does increase flexibility, it is second to strength.  Yoga focuses more on flexibility by slowly moving deeper into poses with the breath. If you are really into increasing your flexibility then try yin yoga, a branch of yoga in which participants hold poses for several minutes at a time or longer.  Restorative yoga is also excellent for increasing flexibility.


Improve Balance

Both yoga and Pilates will improve your balance.  If we do not practice regularly, as we age, we lose our balance.  Yoga practice helps improve balance with poses such as tree and eagle, and with strength intensive poses like warrior.  Pilates exercises also require and improve balance. These exercises condition the small muscles throughout the body that we use to keep our balance. Both yoga and Pilates also encourage mental focus, which is important in balance. In poses like tree, the yogi focuses on a drishti, or spot where the gaze rests.  This visual and mental focus helps improve balance.


Manage Stress

Both Pilates and yoga are good for managing stress (almost any exercise routine is), but yoga gets at it more directly. The deep breathing and meditative practice that is an part of yoga do wonders for relaxing the body and mind and finding peace.  If you want to reduce stress as well as gain strength and flexibility, Pilates or yoga are both good choices.  For the greatest stress relief, choose yoga or a combination of yoga and Pilates.  Fit the routine into your regular schedule for a more balanced and stress free life.


Lose Weight

As Pilates and yoga are both floor exercises, they don’t provide a good cardiovascular workout.  However, they both do burn calories.  The amount of calories a session burns depends on the level of exertion and vigor.  Generally, Pilates burns more calories than yoga, but if you are serious about losing weight, don't stick to just yoga or Pilates; include a cardiovascular workout in your exercise routine.  Pilates coupled with running is a good combination.  Running will get you into better cardiovascular health by getting your heart pumping and Pilates will compliment it by improving your strength and breathing technique for more effective and more comfortable running.



Yoga and Pilates are both excellent whole body fitness routines.  In general, Pilates is better for strength training and improving your physical appearance, while yoga is better for flexibility and mental and spiritual conditioning.  The two overlap in many areas and actually compliment each other well.  Practicing yoga can improve your mental focus and breathing techniques in Pilates class, while Pilates can strengthen your muscles for better yoga performance.