Yoga vs Pilates: What’s the difference and which is best?

They’re both brilliant forms of exercise in their own way. Here’s how to tell whether Pilates or yoga is best for you.

If you haven’t tried yoga or Pilates, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the two. Both are about breathing, flexibility and mindfulness, and social media is full of photos of influencers stretching their bodies into strange shapes in both forms of exercise. 

So, what is the difference between yoga and Pilates, and is one better than the other? We’ve teamed up with Jade Gooding, who teaches both yoga and Pilates for InstructorLive, to explain the key similarities and differences – so you can decide which one is for you. 

A woman with her hands in yoga prayer positionCredit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund
Yoga connects the mind and body but shares a lot of similarities with Pilates

Gooding says: “Both yoga and Pilates are low impact exercises that can be performed with body weight only, but they are completely different workouts.  

“Both practices can reduce the risk of injuries, improve posture and increase overall wellbeing. But Pilates has more of a focus on core strength and alignment, whereas yoga will take you on more of an inward journey of awareness.” 

What is yoga?

Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It’s an ancient spiritual practice that connects the body with the mind and spirit. It involves holding different body positions and stretching your muscles while focusing on your breathing. Yoga aims to build strength and awareness, physically and mentally. There are different forms of yoga and to find out more, read our essential guide to yoga for beginners. 

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a baby compared to yoga as it is just 100 years old. It is a low impact form of exercise that focuses on body weight resistance. The stretches and movements are similar to yoga but are controlled by your core muscles. 

There are six key principles of Pilates – breathing, concentration, centring, control, flow and precision. It places an emphasis on carrying out well defined, often small movements correctly and in balance. 

A Pilates with women doing side plankCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos
Pilates challenges your core muscles using your own body weight

The similarities between yoga and Pilates 

Gooding says that despite the differences, the two types of exercise do have quite a few things in common.

  1. Yoga and Pilates are adaptable for all fitness levels.
  2. They both use breathing techniques.
  3. Both are considered low impact.
  4. They share some exercises.
  5. Yoga and Pilates improve flexibility, muscle strength, mobility and balance.
  6. Both can improve mental focus and concentration.

The differences between yoga and Pilates

There are three fundamental differences between the two practices.

  1. Yoga is a spiritual philosophy – it incorporates breath, movement and meditation to unite mind, body and spirit, but it also incorporates elements of philosophy, science and an ethical way of living. Pilates focuses on the body and, while it includes breathing and focus, it is a form of exercise rather than a spiritual practice.
  2. Physically, the main difference between yoga and Pilates is that yoga focuses more on holding static poses and relaxing and breathing within them, whereas Pilates uses movement to challenge your stability and work those core muscles.
  3. Pilates is disciplined, often with very small movements made in a precise way to improve core strength, muscle tone, body control and flexibility. Yoga focuses on the flow and feel of the movement.
A yoga in the downward facing dog postureCredit: Shutterstock / Nirat.pix
Downward facing dog is one of yoga most recognised postures

Can I do both yoga and Pilates?

“Absolutely, yes!” says Gooding. “Incorporating both forms of practice into your lifestyle can be hugely beneficial.

“Improving your core strength during a Pilates class will help with your balance during a yoga practice.  

“Increasing your flexibility and mobility during a yoga class will enable you to develop better posture during your Pilates.” 

What equipment do I need to do yoga or Pilates?

Both require very little equipment. They don’t need any special clothing. A T-shirt and a pair of leggings are perfect for women (read our guide to the best gym leggings we’ve tested), while for men, a T-shirt and jogging bottoms work well. 

For yoga it’s worth investing in a good yoga mat. For Pilates, mats are also important but choose a thicker one, at least 10mm (a third of an inch) thick is advisable. As you progress, you may start to use props, which can introduce an extra challenge to your workout or else help you in postures and stretches. Props can include blocks, straps, weights, Pilates balls or Pilates rings. 

Which is better – Pilates or yoga?

Both are low impact exercises that can help improve your flexibility and strength, and can help with stress and tension. 

In the end it comes down to your personal choice. If you are interested in spirituality, then yoga would be for you. If you have an injury, then Pilates may be a better choice, as it is used by a lot of physiotherapists for rehabilitation. 

All things considered, there is something for everyone in both practices, so it is best to try them both to decide which you prefer – and if you can’t decide, then why not do both? 

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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