Yoga vs. Pilates

May 22, 2014

By Justin Welch, Private Trainer and Pilates Instructor at Sports Club/LA - San Francisco

There are many similarities between yoga and Pilates.  Both are mind-body practices, requiring you to focus your mind on what your body is doing. Both practices involve moving your body with precision and control along with a focus on breath. Also, yoga and Pilates give you a great core workout while increasing flexibility and strength, and can often reduce mental stress for people who practice regularly.


However, yoga and Pilates do have some marked differences as they come from very different origins. Yoga is an ancient practice with roots in the first millennium BCE. It was introduced to the west in the late 19th and early 20th century and became popular as a system of physical exercise in the 1980s. This form of yoga is often called Hatha yoga.

Pilates is an exercise system created by Joseph Pilates in the early half of the 20th century. Pilates grew up in Germany as a sickly child who found health through physical fitness. He came of age when the physical culture movement was very popular in Germany – some of his exercises are taken directly from this movement. Pilates discovered the power of using spring resistance with exercise during World War I when he was confined in a British internment camp on the Isle of Man. He was influenced by the practices of yoga and qigong but was also a boxer, gymnast, diver and bodybuilder.

The use of spring resistance makes Pilates very unique. Like gymnastics, Pilates has two components – work done on a mat (similar to yoga where the body's weight provides resistance) and various apparatus often using springs for added resistance. Mat work is generally done in a group class whereas apparatus work is usually done one-on-one with a trainer. Small group classes sometimes take place on the reformer, which is considered the workhorse of all Pilates equipment. In some instances, the apparatus or reformer can provide support and make an exercise easier, while other times it can make it more challenging.

Pilates and yoga can go hand-in-hand:

  • Pilates can help yogis perfect their back bends by teaching them to bend from their upper spine with less “crunching” into the lower back.
  • Pilates also helps yoga beginners build strength in their core to protect their lower back when extending their spine.
  • People who practice Pilates should try yoga if they’re interested in developing their flexibility.
  • Pilates clients often benefit from the 5-10 minutes of meditation that usually occurs at the end of every yoga class.