Is spending hours glued to your screens causing pain and stiffness all over your body? You know you need to incorporate at least a little bit of exercise into your day to combat these problems, but HIIT workouts and weight training just sound way too intense. 

If you’re looking for low-impact workouts that will improve your strength and mobility, as well as help relieve that back pain, you may want to try yoga or Pilates. 

Not sure which one is better for you? Read on to find out the key characteristics of both yoga and Pilates, their benefits, and how they differ from each other, so you can make an informed choice that fits your needs and lifestyle.

What Is Pilates?

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Skillshare Pilates instructor Robyn Whale demonstrates an exercise for the core. 

Pilates is a system of movement designed to strengthen, lengthen, and tone muscles. It was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s as a way to help rehabilitate soldiers returning from World War I. He originally called it “Contrology” because much of the practice is centered around executing movements with control and precision. 

A typical Pilates class involves a series of full-body exercises done either on the mat or using special equipment designed by Joseph himself. 

Unlike traditional forms of exercise, Pilates focuses on the quality of repetitions rather than their quantity. Each exercise is done slowly and involves just one set of three to 12 reps. 

Pilates Benefits

Like any form of exercise, the benefits of Pilates include increased energy, decreased stress, potential weight loss, and better overall physical and mental health. 

What’s special about Pilates is that it focuses on improving core strength—the area of the body responsible for good posture, balance, and stability. A stronger core can help you relieve pain and prevent injuries as you engage in day-to-day activities, such as bending, lifting, doing chores, or playing sports. 

Pilates is also one of the best forms of exercise during pregnancy, as it strengthens the muscles of the pelvic floor to aid during birth and postpartum recovery and can help prevent severe abdominal separation. 

What Is Yoga?

Skillshare yoga instructor Abi Carver demonstrates a yoga pose. 

Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that can be traced back thousands of years. The word “yoga” means to unite, referring to the union of the mind, body, and spirit. 

Yoga involves using the breath to help the body flow from one pose (or “asana”) to another. Different types of yoga vary in their pace and the length of time that each pose is held, making some types more physically demanding than others.

Today, it’s mainly viewed as a form of exercise because it helps build strength, flexibility, balance, and stability. In traditional yoga, however, asanas are seen as just one of the eight pillars of the practice, the other seven being restraints, observances, breath control, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and pure contemplation. 

Yoga Benefits

Similarly to Pilates, the physical benefits of yoga include improved strength, flexibility, and balance, as well as the potential to relieve pain and prevent injury. 

Because of its focus on breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation, many people view yoga as a form of self care, rather than just a part of their fitness routine. Regular yoga practice can lead to decreased stress and anxiety, better quality of sleep, raised self esteem, and improved concentration outside of the mat. 

Those who regularly practice yoga often report that its benefits spill over into other areas of life and inspire and motivate them to prioritize health, wellbeing, and purpose. 

The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates

Both yoga and Pilates are low-impact forms of exercise, and they both emphasize the mind-body connection through controlled, mindful movements and breath. 

However, there are a number of key differences between the two that could impact which one is better suited for your needs. Let’s take a look.  

1. Equipment 

Yoga is traditionally done on a mat and relies on body weight to improve strength and flexibility. Occasionally, props like yoga blocks or straps may be used, though they’re typically meant to be stepping stones—your ultimate goal is to eventually practice without them. 

Pilates, too, can be done on the mat with no equipment, but there’s also a wide range of exercises that involve special Pilates machines like the Reformer, Wunda Chair, or Ladder Barrel. These machines were designed by Joseph Pilates and use pulley systems and springs to create resistance for the body. 

Source: Pixels
Pilates exercise performed on the Reformer. 

2. Movement Patterns

In yoga, the body holds a pose for a few breaths before flowing into the next. These sequences of poses may be repeated several times during each practice. 

Pilates, on the other hand, more closely resembles traditional exercise—movements are much shorter and go on for a few repetitions. Once complete, the set of movements is not repeated again.  

3. Breath

In yoga, the breath is used to relax the muscles and sink deeper into each pose. It’s what guides the flow of the body from one pose into the next and helps strengthen the connection between the body, mind, and spirit. 

In Pilates, the breath is used to energize the muscles and ensure that the correct areas of the core are activated during each movement. Proper breathing techniques can provide stability and help the body accomplish challenging exercises. 

4. Focus

Another key difference between yoga and Pilates is the focus of each practice. In yoga, the intention is to focus attention inward, clear the mind, and fall into a meditative state. 

In Pilates, the focus is entirely on the body and its ability to perform each movement with control and precision. 

5. Spirituality 

Perhaps the biggest difference between yoga and Pilates is that yoga is a more spiritual practice, while Pilates is purely a form of exercise. 

Many people do practice yoga simply for its physical benefits, but traditional yoga is also a form of meditation and a spiritual journey. The yoga philosophy guides its practitioners through self discovery, self discipline, letting go of the ego, and finding purpose. 

Pilates vs Yoga: Which Is Better?

Is Pilates better than yoga, or the other way around? As is hopefully clear by now, comparing the two is like comparing oranges to apples—they’re just too different! 

Whether Pilates or yoga is better for you depends entirely on your goals, what you enjoy, and what you hope to get out of the practice. If your primary goal is to burn calories, Pilates classes are a bit more physically intense than yoga. However, if your goal is to relax, unwind, and destress, yoga will help you do just that. 

The best way to decide is, of course, to try both yoga and Pilates and see which one works better for you. There’s also nothing preventing you from incorporating both into your fitness and self care routine. Many Pilates practitioners regularly enjoy yoga and vice versa, both claiming that practicing one helps improve their experience of the other. 

Get Started on Your Wellness Journey

No matter what you decide to try, there are tons of online classes available for both yoga and Pilates that will guide you through each practice and teach you the basics. 

Still can’t decide? Not to worry! With so many people enjoying both yoga and Pilates, many instructors are now creating hybrid workouts that incorporate the best of both into cohesive, full-body exercise routines. For example, check out this seated workout for creatives inspired by yoga and Pilates movements. Give it a try right now—you don’t even have to leave your desk! 

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Written by:

Sayana Lam