Wellness Wednesdays: The difference between yoga and Pilates

We have had quite a few questions lately on what the difference is between yoga and Pilates.

Essentially, both are mind-body forms of exercise, intended to cultivate greater awareness and connection between the body and mind: focus is on the “journey” to the end result with focus on the present moment and the movement itself rather than the outcome.

Yoga has been around for thousands and thousands of years whereas Pilates is a ‘newer’ form of exercise developed by Joseph H. Pilates and many of the exercises in Pilates were inspired by yoga. Although many of the postures, or asanas (in yoga), are the same a major difference is that in yoga poses are generally held for a longer time period; Pilates moving at a faster pace. Yoga uses breath to deepen a pose whereas Pilates is more likely to extend a pose as far as possible within a time frame using core awareness and resistance.


Both forms of exercise only really need a mat to tone, strengthen and stretch the muscles using mostly body weight as a resistance tool, however, Pilates also incorporates machines or apparatus.

Although there are many similarities, differences can also be highlighted. Yoga concentrates on strength and flexibility of the spine and limbs first whereas Pilates focuses on abdominal strength first and then overall Ā strength and flexibility. In other words, in Pilates every moment emanates from the core and extends through the limbs (precision of movement with breath) whereas in yoga, concentration is on the breath first and then focus is on deepening of the pose (staying connected to the breath). Breathing patterns are also different between the two; because Pilates movements are done against resistance, with the abs pulled in and up to support the spine, breathing is concentrated in the rib cage so the chest, sides and back expand on inhalation but the waist does not. Yoga breathing allows the abdominal cavity to expand and is often called “belly breathing”

Most of the exercises in Pilates are performed lying down, either prone (on the stomach), supine (on the back), or side-lying. These movements aim to defy gravity the entire time, engaging the abdominal center in order to lift up from the ground to lengthen muscles. In yoga, most of the poses are done standing, and work with gravity by rooting down into the earth in order to lengthen the body away from the floor (with the exception of arm balances and inversions where one tries to defy gravity). Note that in yoga, there are a number of poses done on the floor as well, such as seated forward bends, twists, bow pose, and plow, and in Pilates, there is also standing series, such as the sculpting series or exercises that integrate the magic circle prop.

Whether you take yoga or Pilates lessons depends entirely on you. Both mind-body practices are greaat forms of strength training that build long, lean muscles and you should try both to decide which form you prefer.

Also, bear in mind that yoga is rooted in a spiritual, meditative practice – if the idea of chanting, finding your spiritual centre or aligning your chakras does not sound like something that you would enjoy – there are plenty of different types of yoga to try out or, of course, Pilates.