Yoga vs Pilates: Which is Better for You?

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A woman doing pilates exercise for abs

The physical and mental benefits of yoga and pilates are nearly the same. So how do you choose the right one for you? We have narrowed down the list with comparisons and similarities to help you decide.

In the world of fitness, there are two disciplines so similar to one another; they regularly get discussed together. Yoga and Pilates. The question that regularly pops up in these discussions is, “ Which is better – Yoga or Pilates?” 

Whether it is Yoga or Pilates that works better for your body depends on your body type and fitness goals. The question does not always elicit the clearest of answers. Most experts agree that both systems have many similarities of form and a few differences of degree. So, let’s take this Yoga vs Pilates question and break down the similarities and differences between the two. 

What is pilates?

Pilates, “the Pilates Method” or Contrology, is a fitness regimen. It was developed by German anatomist, naturopath, and mechanical genius Joseph Pilates and his wife, Clara Pilates, in the 1920s. 

Joseph spent his early years being unwell and plagued by multiple illnesses such as fevers, asthma, and rickets. Naturally, he became enchanted with the idea of strength, endurance, and physical fitness. He developed a series of specific exercises that were designed to enhance the body’s strength, flexibility, and balance. He formulated nearly 500 exercises combining rhythmic movements, focused breathing exercises, and strengthening of the core muscles. These became the Pilates exercises or the Pilates method.

The central philosophy of the Pilates method is to achieve a balance between the mind and the body. Through that mind-body synchrony, Pilates focuses on developing better balance and enhancing the body’s endurance and strength. Pilates exercises are performed on a mat or on equipment named “the reformer.”

Did you know:

The Reformer was originally designed by Joseph Pilates himself with a mattress and strings. It was originally called the universal reformer as it was meant to help universally reforming the body.

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient holistic practice for physical and mental wellness. No one can give a definite answer to when this form originated.

As for where it originated, the answer is generally: India. But Yoga, as it is known today, has taken its influences from different areas. Buddhism, Shamanism, ancient Eastern cultures, and several modern additions and interpretations, to name a few. 

Yoga combines physical wellness with self awareness of the mind and spirit. Naturally, mindfulness is a crucial feature of Yoga. By combining fluid movements with mindful breathing techniques, Yoga aims to achieve more wholesome health and wellness of the human body. 

Similarities between pilates and yoga

Studies and observations on Yoga vs Pilates immediately throw up several similarities. One of the primary points of similarity between Yoga and Pilates is that both are essentially mind-body disciplines.  Apart from this, both practices focus on breathing, flexibility, core strength, and balance. 

Common Poses

If you are a beginner to Yoga or Pilates, you’d be surprised to see how many poses are common to both disciplines. This isn’t entirely surprising. When Joseph was creating his Pilates method, he took inspiration from various fields. His sources were as diverse as Ballet, Calisthenics and, you guessed it right, Yoga

Here is a list of similar poses in Yoga and Pilates:

The Boat PoseThe Open Leg Balance Pose
The Plow PoseThe Pilates Rollover
The Cobra PoseThe Swan Pose
The Yoga PlankThe Pilates Plank/Front Support
Four-Limbed Staff PoseThe Pilates Push-ups. 

Focus on Core/breathing

Primarily, Pilates focuses on the strengthening of the core muscles. It aims for better strength and balance, by focusing on breathing while holding the poses. Now brush up your memory of every Yoga manual/ training video/instructor’s commands that you have ever heard. Do the words Inhale/Exhale come to mind? 

In his book [1]Internet Archive: Pilates’ return to life through contrology, Joseph himself stressed on squeezing out “every atom of impure air” from the lungs. Once the impure air is out, the lungs will automatically refill with fresh, life-giving oxygen. The deep-breathing that both Yoga and Pilates stress on automatically engages the core muscles. That, and the inclusion of different highly focused physical postures ensure a stronger core. 

Focus on mind Body connection

Both Yoga and Pilates focus on bringing unity and balance between the mind and body in their ways.  In Yoga, the mental and spiritual focus is at the center of its practice. It is the most clearly stated goal of its core philosophy. 

Pilates also focuses on creating a balance between the practitioner’s body and mind. Although, the primary aim of Pilates is physical fitness, as opposed to Yoga’s emphasis on spiritual wellbeing. Pilates also focuses on breathing and awareness of the body’s movements and rhythms. In doing so, Pilates automatically provides some spiritual and mental benefits without explicitly aiming for it.

Equipment you use in yoga vs pilates

One thing that sets Yoga and Pilates apart is that they can be practiced with very little equipment. Both are primarily mat-based regimens. This makes it easier to practice both anywhere. 

Of course, there are equipment like Yoga blocks, Pilates rings, and so on. But they are mostly as extra aids rather than necessities.

what you wear to yoga or pilates

Be mindful when choosing what to wear when exercising. Wrong fitted attire may hinder your workout experience. You should feel comfortable while doing yoga and pilates. So, you can slip into your most comfortable and breathable fitness gear. Wear your favorite fitted shorts or slacks. Pair it with a tank top or a fitted tee. Roll up a good mat, and sling it onto your shoulder. 

You can be off to your Yoga class, your Pilates class, or even your Pilates-Yoga workout or Pi-Yo/pilates-yoga classes in the same gear. Both Yoga and Pilates require the same wear, gear, and props in their most basic formats. Just ensure they are the right fit and provide just enough comfort and support.

Key differences between pilates and yoga

The key difference between Yoga vs Pilates can be brought down to two simple words: Material/Spiritual. 

Whether we are talking of Yoga or Pilates, overall physical health remains a common goal of both disciplines. Yoga is overtly spiritual. It expresses this through elements such as meditation, mindfulness, and awareness of bodily movements and breathing. These have been woven into the Yogic practice.

Pilates does have the element of mindfulness woven into its practice. But, primarily, pilates focuses on the health and well-being of the physical body.

There’s one other difference between Yoga and Pilates. Yoga has many sub-forms. In Pilates, there aren’t many sub-forms except the Mat-Pilates and the Reformer-Pilates. Most other variations in Pilates are of degree and goals and not of form (Beginners, intermediate, advanced)

Which is better for you – yoga or pilates?

Deciding the better among two disciplines that share so many similarities can be a difficult task. We have already looked at the key differences between Yoga and Pilates. Now let’s look at them in detail. This will help in deciding which is better for us.

Physical benefits

Yoga and Pilates achieve several similar physical fitness goals through inherently different paths. Core strength, flexibility, better posture, improved cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive health are some of the expected benefits of yoga and Pilates. Relaxation, better balance, and a marked reduction in stress and anxiety are added benefits.

It’s a no-brainer that Yoga is the ultimate answer to stretching and relaxing tensed muscles. There are a few differences, though. If flexibility is your primary goal,  hit the Yoga studio.

If you need a little more resistance-based workout, then Pilates is your answer. Pilates exercises will give your body the right amount of challenge. 

Those among us looking to lose weight and burn more calories might want to turn towards Pilates. Pilates exercises are known to burn more calories in a single session. If you are still keen on taking up Yoga to burn calories, you can still do it. You just need to pick the right type of vigorous Yoga.  

Mental benefits

Both Yoga and Pilates have traditionally sought to bring a certain alignment of the body and mind. By slowing down and deepening the breathing process, both automatically reduce stress and relax the body and mind. Simultaneously, they also enhance focus and provide better balance.

Yoga has long been the experts’ first and most natural therapeutic suggestion for people looking to heal specific mental health issues such as chronic depression, stress, anxiety, etc. While both practices are slow-paced and meditative, certain types of Yoga corporate meditation as part of their routine. Here, Yoga scores a mental health goal over Pilates.

Yoga or pilates for seniors?

Seniors often find both Yoga and Pilates ideal for their bodies, their fitness goals, and their age-related physical, mental and emotional health requirements. Depending on your fitness and stress relief goals and physical conditions, you can easily decide which is a better fitness program for you. 

How often do many of us find our back and leg muscles straining each time we rise from a bed or a chair? How many among us can bend down and touch their toes? How many among us have struggled with neck strain, lower back pain, or knee pain? 

In all fairness, these problems are no longer age-related, thanks to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles. But if you are a senior looking to maintain suppleness and flexibility of your body, Yoga is a safe bet. Especially so if you are a beginner. 

If you are already fairly flexible well into your middle ages, focus on enhancing your strength. Pilates has more focused exercises that work on specific muscle groups. This makes Pilates a slightly better option for seniors who want to develop strength, stamina, and endurance of their aging muscles.

Both Yoga and Pilates have regenerative benefits. This means that they are ideal for people whose bodies have gone through wear and tear, injuries, etc. Usually, as bodies age, they accumulate the effects of several strains and injuries. 

If the accumulated strain in your body includes tension of body and mind, go for Yoga. If your body has struggled through injuries, local pains, and such other intensely physical troubles, Pilates is usually recommended for its restorative and rehabilitative benefits.  

Yoga or pilates for pregnancy?

Although Pilates is safe and beneficial for pregnant women, one rarely hears of Pilates for Pregnancy. Most people do not know that Pilates can be extremely beneficial for pregnant women when practiced under expert guidance. Women’s bodies go through a lot of changes during pregnancy. The lower back, abdominal and pelvic regions are some of the worst-hit areas. Precisely the areas that Pilates exercises can help with.

Women, particularly pregnant women, suffer from mild to severe incontinence issues. Pilates can help strengthen the pelvic muscles that control flow and urination. Pilates is known to have helped people with urinary continence issues. 

So, if those cute little kicks from the baby inside you also make you want a restroom, rest assured. Pilates has got your pelvic floor covered!

Not much needs to be said about the benefits of Yoga during Pregnancy. The innumerable Pregnancy Yoga studios around should tell you enough. A session at some prenatal yoga class can do wonders to your body. Prenatal yoga can help to strengthen your core. It eases any strain on your back and helps with any pregnancy-related sleep issues you should be struggling with. Make sure to perform any exercises under the yoga teacher surveillance.

Yoga vs pilates: cardiovascular benefits

Certain fast-paced Yoga formats such as Vinyasa Yoga have been known to elevate your heart rate. A 2017 study [2]International Journal of Yoga: Yoga practice improves the body mass index and blood pressure: A randomized controlled trial found reduced blood pressure rates in people who regularly practiced Yoga for a month. 

Pilates does not have too many sub-forms that provide separate benefits. Although, it is known to have improved the blood pressure rate in people who practice it regularly.


The Pilates methods was developed by taking influences from various fields including Ballet, Calisthenics, Greek philosophy, and Yoga. Naturally, some of the poses can be traced back to Yoga asanas.

As often as you CAN! If you can only fit in two yoga classes a week, sneak in a few at-home Yoga sessions. Ideally, you should try to take two or three classes a week and then supplement them with your sessions at home.

Try to practice Pilates exercises at least thrice a week. If you are a beginner, try combining once-a-week classes with regular practice at home whenever possible.

Both! Pilates and Yoga are both suitable for weight loss. Some forms of Yoga, like Vinyasa Yoga, burn more calories per hour. The difference in weight loss benefits is minimal; pick between Yoga and Pilates depending on what excites you more.

Flat and toned abs may be easier to obtain through pilates. After all, it is a little more intense and core-focused than Yoga is. More vigorous forms of Yoga, like Vinyasa or Hot Yoga, can also torch your belly fat.

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