Yoga vs Pilates – what is the difference and which one is for you?

While yoga and Pilates may appear very similar (you get to go barefoot and lie down quite a lot) anyone who's taken both classes knows that’s where the similarities end. And while both methods appeal to our modern quest for multi-benefit workouts that help us de-stress our minds while strengthening our muscles, probably their biggest difference lies with their end-goals. Yoga is more focused on the “journey” and creating balance between mind, body and spirit while Pilates is all about strengthening the mind-body connection from your core. Take a look though the comparisons below and make up your own mind.



Yoga is a holistic, philosophical approach to fitness. It was created as many as 5,000 years ago in India and brought to the Western World more than 100 years ago. Yoga emphasizes balance and alignment through poses that strengthen all muscles groups, as well as creating physical, mental and physical balance.


Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. As a child, he suffered with asthma and turned to athletics to strengthen his body. He was always studying exercise and became enamored by the classical Greek ideal of a man balanced in body, mind, and spirit, and he began to develop his own exercise system based on this concept. Pilates is used by physical therapists to rehabilitate their clients and protect them against repeat injuries. Pilates is ab-focused as the core is engaged with every exercise.


Mind, Body, Spirit Connection

Exploring spirituality is fundamental part of yoga. In fact, many teachers believe if you practice yoga without journeying deeper through the breath and the philosophy you may as well be doing gymnastics. If you love to learn and are interested in self-discovery – yoga may be for you.


Pilates promotes that the mind and body are connected through the breath but doesn’t have a ‘philosophy’ like yoga. It is more focused on using the breath to power precise, controlled movements activated from the core.



Yoga is great is at increasing flexibility and range of movement restricted by overuse (weight training, running etc) and at counteracting the effects of our modern, sedentary lifestyles. If you think you are not flexible enough to try yoga, think again. Every posture can be modified and there are straps, blocks and props to help you comfortably and safely get into the poses.


Pilates emphasizes core strength over flexibility but the moves are naturally lengthening and involve reaching and extending (think ballet-like stretches) so your flexibility will improve.


The Class

Yoga has many disciplines and there are as many different classes as there are teachers. The postures, sequences and variations can be combined into thousands of different routines to create a specific class involving standing, seated and inverted postures but most classes begin with an opening welcome, often in the form of a chant, to create focus and purpose and a meditation at the end.


Pilates classes are a little more structured and can involve reformer machines and/or mat work. The exercises themselves are quite regimented and focus on strengthening the core and aligning the spine.


Heart Health

Hatha yoga provides little cardio benefit; power yoga does a bit better, giving the heart the same aerobic workout as a brisk stroll, while some dynamic and advance ashtanga-style classes can give an intense, sweaty workout. 


As for Pilates, you may feel the burn with moves like “the hundred,” but your heart won't. A beginner routine offers only a mild aerobic challenge, at the level of a slow walk. An advanced class is better, kicking the heart rate up to that of speed walking.



Yoga focuses on creating balance through out the body and there are poses to strengthen literally every muscle of the body. As any one who has practiced ashtanga or vinyasa-flow style classes will testify it is also the number one way to improve upper body strength through all those chattarangas.

Pilates primarily develops core strength but also challenges and strengthens your back, arms, inner thighs and glutes



Bonus Benefits

With yoga, the bonus must surely be inner peace. Studies show yoga can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol even after one session. It can also reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flushes, relieves back pain better than traditional exercises and eases arthritis.

Many think that Pilates will lengthen their muscles. Unfortunately, not. Muscles can't grow longer, but the back and abdominal strength you build, along with increased flexibility, can help improve your posture, giving the appearance of a taller, leaner body.



The Bottom-Line

If you still can’t decide which one is for you, don’t worry. Give them both a go. You will benefit from both, enjoy both and they certainly compliment each other as well as other workouts you may be doing. Take running for example. If you're a runner, both exercises will benefit you but in different ways. The deep stretching done in yoga can help extend muscles that are shortened by overuse, while the core strength gained from Pilates will improve balance and posture. 


Why not send us a comment at and let us know which is your preferred mind-body workout and why?

Posted on 05th March 2016

© Copyright Calmia 2017

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