“Pilates is just like Yoga, isn’t it?” Pilates teachers have heard this question a hundred times, and people new to Pilates have been itching to find the answer.
Most people believe that Yoga is just stretching and Pilates is a celebrity ab workout. Well, there is way more to both of these methods than these common stereotypes portray.
For many years I thought that Pilates was superior to Yoga. I could honestly call myself a “Pilates snob.” Please, don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me right away. I had my reasons – I’ve worked with several students who got injured during a Yoga class, they tore their rotator cuffs or had major neck issues. I was helping them regain their health as they were “recovering” from their Yoga practice.
Of course, over time I also got to know Yoga students and teachers who had incredible body awareness and were true inspirations during our sessions.
About 6 months ago I have decided to try a Yoga class at one of the local studios. I was not doing it because my Pilates practice was lacking something – I simply wanted to be a student again eager to discover a new challenge and a new goal.
The first Yoga class that I took was OK but nothing spectacular. Several weeks later I have decided to take another class from another instructor. I did not want to make any hasty decisions about Yoga based on my first and only experience. So I took a Hot Yoga class – WOW, this class has taken me to a new level of body awareness and has definitely opened up new goals for me. I am ready to sweat again any time any day!
So, let’s come back to our question “Pilates vs Yoga. Which one should you choose?” I am an analytical person and I like to lay out the facts when I am making any decisions. I also like to hear opinions of other people so I have asked several Pilates and Yoga practitioners to share their point of view.
- Class Format. For the sake of this article, we will be talking about group Pilates and Yoga classes. It is very common to walk into a Yoga class with 20-30 other people. Pilates Group classes are normally limited to 10 people for a mat class and a maximum of 6 for an apparatus class.
Generally speaking, you will get more personalized attention during a Pilates class than you would during a Yoga class. A Pilates teacher will be continuously correcting your position and alignment to help you “extract” maximum benefit from every movement that you are doing.
In a Yoga class you will receive several corrections (if you need them of course) but repetition will be your tool of perfecting each Asana or transition.
- Spirituality. For a long time I did not want to take a Yoga class because of the spirituality attached to it. Physical practice (asanas) is just one component of Yoga. Spiritual practice and meditation can be as much part of a Western Yoga class as the actual asanas are. How much spiritual focus to expect from a class will depend greatly on the instructor. If you are not comfortable chanting and sharing in Yogi spiritual beliefs then you need to be sure that the class that you are taking is “body”, not “spirit”-oriented.
A Pilates session on the other hand does not involve any spiritual communications. You are learning to control your body with your mind through repetition, precision and concentration.
Sandy Grant, a Pilates and Yoga teacher at Studio 7 Pilates shares “Yoga and Pilates are completely different in how I’ve learned them and how I teach them. Yoga is not a sport to begin with. The goal is not to improve your flexibility and create great abs – some will sell it as so, but this is contradictory to the very tradition. Pilates is honest: we are here to work hard and change our bodies to a healthier physical version of ourselves. There is mind-body connection that must be made (but only so that the exercises are effective physically). Yoga does not promise a new body; it only attempts to quiet the mind and any physical benefits are secondary.”
- Portability. I love workouts that I can do anywhere. Both Yoga and Pilates mat classes are perfect for this reason. I will admit that Yoga is more versatile if you are doing advanced flows but Pilates matwork is easier to learn and do on your own (no instructor needed.) You can get really creative by breaking down Pilates Reformer exercises on the mat while the order of the Classical Pilates mat workout gives you structure and takes the guesswork out of your personal practice.
If you enjoy working out on your own then you will find more Yoga Youtube channels to follow than Pilates ones. My favorite Yoga channels so far are Yoga by Candace, Yoga Upload and Sarah Beth Yoga.
- Workout Goals. On average I would say that Yoga is better to improve flexibility, joint mobility and balance while Pilates definitely is a winner in core strengthening. Granted, it’s a simplified view of both disciplines but it showcases their biggest benefits. Rebekah Le Magny, a Pilates teacher and owner of Atelier R Pilates and the creative mind behind The Pilates Book Review Forum, says that she personally enjoyed the stretching aspect of Yoga when she took it up 5 years ago. “I also really enjoyed vinyasa yoga, which is quite dynamic. I found the balancing poses very challenging and was therefore motivated to master them.”
Farnoosh Brock, founder of Prolific Living, author and business coach shares: “It has not been very long since I started my mat Pilates core exercises but I already feel stronger and I so love it. I feel that it is one of the best ways to create core stability and strength especially for us women and we need this strong core, whether we do yoga or just live a busy life. Today in fact, I did my very first press-up ever (using my Dharma Yoga Wheel but still) after doing my Pilates abs core workout using your video, Anastasiya. I know that it was not a coincidence. Pilates makes the hard yoga postures more possible and for that, I adore Pilates.”
- Injuries. Pilates is one of the best tools to learn body awareness without pushing yourself into the danger zone. Most Pilates studios believe in small Pilates group classes that let the teacher watch and correct every student. Even more, many studios will not let you join a group class if you did not have at least 3 private sessions. While it can be pricey for the student, this studio policy has the student’s best interests in mind.
As an A-type personality, I find that it is easy for me to get carried away during a Yoga class and follow the more challenging poses despite the constant reminders of the teacher to go at your own pace. It takes time to learn to listen to your body and know your safe limits. Strong core muscles are in my opinion a prerequisite to safe Yoga practice but many Yoga teachers do not spend enough time teaching the students how to engage the core.
Rebekah Le Magny shares her Yoga experience: “I started teaching yoga two years ago. However, I felt that, despite my efforts to teach correct alignment, there was a much greater risk of injury in yoga, particularly in vinyasa yoga. Additionally, most of my students had shoulder, hip and back problems. I found that Pilates was better suited to their needs than yoga.
I stopped practicing yoga because I have hyperlax joints – hips, knees, and particularly pubic symphysis. Despite all the precautions I took, I came to the conclusion that the asymmetrical positions in yoga were increasing laxity in my pelvis and causing a sort of “slippage” with increasing frequency. I decided to stop teaching yoga and to concentrate my time and efforts on what I believe I do best – teaching Pilates. After my last yoga class, I felt very relieved.“
- Breathing. Breathing is a crucial component in both Pilates and Yoga practices but it can get really confusing for students and teachers who practice both. During a Pilates class you will be most frequently instructed to breathe into your ribs (lateral breathing) and exhale on the effort. During a Yoga class a more relaxed (effortless) deep abdominal breathing is encouraged. Many teachers who embraced both disciplines in their own bodies will encourage their students to “play” with breath or use different breathing techniques depending on the movements that they are doing.
Michelle Hoyos, Pilates and Yoga teacher at Active Bodies Pilates, adds “The biggest challenge in having both a Yoga and Pilates practice is the breathing. When I teach Yoga I lean towards doing Pilates breath , if it’s a Vinyasa or power class. If it’s restorative I relax on the exhale.”
- Benefits. Both Pilates and Yoga offer incredible health benefits that will take up several articles to list all of them. Jamie Harris, who has been practicing both Pilates and Yoga on and off for almost 20 years, shares “They both reduce anxiety and stress, which was something I was struggling with. I used to be on anti-anxiety medicine. However, after doing both Pilates and yoga, I no longer need medicine to combat my anxiety.
My concentration has certainty approved and I think it’s because in Pilates I really had to concentrate on the repetitions, which later were applicable to Yoga. I suffer from ADHD as well so concentrating is challenging because I get easily distracted.”
Farnoosh Brock shares that the biggest benefit that she gained from her Yoga practice of over 10 years is happiness. “I am a happier person, a better person, and calmer and so much more aware of myself. Also I have so very many tools that help me heal my body and I have greatly enhanced my health. I am much healthier and stronger and in better shape and more fit than 10 years ago. That’s saying something as you age :)!”
Pilates students report improved posture, stronger core musculature, decreased back pain and overall improved quality of life (discover more mind/body benefits of Pilates here and here.)
Yoga students emphasize stress-fighting benefits of Yoga, improved flexibility, emotional healing and decreased blood pressure (get all the Yoga benefits here.)
So should you choose Pilates or Yoga?
“I feel that there is a competition between Team Pilates and Team Yoga. Its like you can’t be on both teams or at least that is how I feel. My Pilates instructor looked incredibly hurt when I told him I was taking up yoga as well. The first yoga instructor told me that Pilates was not nearly as powerful as yoga when it comes to spiritual healing and etc. They have both helped me tremendously. It just seems that you have to be one or the other. I refuse to pick sides.” ~Jamie Harris.
I agree with Jamie, there should not be any competition between Pilates and Yoga. Both disciplines are incredibly powerful in changing both body and mind. If you like one class more than the other then simply choose what works for your body right now, nobody forces you to make a lifelong commitment. I personally enjoy the challenge of the balancing poses in Yoga as well as standing work that strengthens the legs. However, I use my Pilates principles and strong core muscles developed by years of practicing Pilates in every headstand and every plank that I do.
Here are some final thoughts from the teachers and students about Pilates and Yoga:
Rebekah Le Magny “Despite my personal experience, I find that yoga and Pilates are highly complementary. I think going to a yoga class armed with the knowledge and body awareness that comes from Pilates makes Yoga both more enjoyable and safer.”
Sandy Grant “Yoga has helped me tone down the direction I give to my Pilates students – I give them more room now to make mistakes – to discover their bodies and their breath which is often too guided (well intentioned, but too over-controlled by Pilates teachers trying to make everything perfect).
As a teacher, I am more sensitive to the needs of my students. I have become more accepting of different student types and I have learned how to modify my classes to fit the needs of my students as opposed to fulfill a repertoire that was taught to me during a training course.”
Farnoosh Brock “Yoga is my life, my central practice and true focus and dedication and devotion. Pilates is just a tool for me to become a stronger yoga practitioner and in that regard, Pilates has been phenomenal. Pilates focuses on building the core, even though the breathing is very different from yoga, and unless you are doing relaxing yoga or very easy yoga, you need the core strength to become a strong yoga practitioner but it’s hard to build strength with yoga just by doing yoga so Pilates helps tremendously.”
Michelle Hoyos “I would say the changing poses, level changes, standing balances of Yoga have to take the mat centering of pilates to a vertical. They both require concentration, precision and flow.
I teach them separately but I will give insight into both. If it’s someone who normally does yoga and they come to pilates I will reference yoga names and similarities. I think the more we understand movement and our bodies, the better we will be as teachers. I feel like I am always learning in both disciplines. I think that is why I do both Pilates and Yoga.”
YOUR TURN: do you practice Pilates, Yoga or both? Share how these practices have shaped your body and your life.