Yoga vs Pilates: understanding the differences and benefits
Not sure about the difference between these two wellness workouts? We’ve got you covered with our ultimate guide to yoga and Pilates, whether an experienced practitioner or a newbie stretcher.
Yoga and Pilates are both low-impact, low-intensity exercises that are suitable for all ages and fitness levels and great for our physical health as well as mental wellbeing.
Using minimal equipment, both practices encourage us to focus on our breathing, control, and endurance to strengthen and sculpt our bodies. They encourage us to bring a connection to our minds and body as a mindfulness exercise and enable a space for us to slow down, relax and unwind.
However similar they may appear though, and there definitely are plenty of similarities, yoga and Pilates are, in fact, two very different workouts, with their own unique poses and sequences as well as different benefits and intentions.
When it comes to choosing which workout style is best for you, we’ve got the low down on each specific practice, from its origins to its aims. Keep on reading to stretch it out, set up goals and find your zen.
What is Pilates?
Pilates first hit the scene in the 1920s, invented by German PT Joseph Pilates as a new form of exercise to strengthen the body and help alleviate pains. It was originally named ‘Contrology’ and in the early 20th century, was used as a form of rehab for wounded soldiers.
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Pilates has since become a popular practice across the world for all types of people and fitness levels. It focuses on small movements to strengthen the core, obliques and legs, as well as building up endurance and stability. The mindful movement comes primarily from the centre and empowers you to connect your mind with your body, benefitting both your physical and mental health.
There are several types of Pilates, including classic, mat and reformer. Leading fitness app ClassPass explains the different styles:
- Classic Pilates: the traditional system by Joseph Pilates that uses both mat and apparatus work.
- Mat Pilates: this version utilises an exercise mat and focuses on core strength and flexibility. Mat Pilates requires no equipment and is a ‘core killer’.
- Reformer Pilates: with added resistance from a reformer machine, users can increase the intensity of their workout and ‘help improve posture and coordination.’
The benefits of Pilates
Whether looking to improve your strength, flexibility, or overall wellbeing, Pilates is a great form of exercise to help you achieve your goals. Here we look at some of the physical and mental benefits…
Physical benefits of Pilates
One of the main benefits of Pilates is that it can help improve your posture, which as a result, can reduce the risk of developing back pain and other related issues. The exercise also focuses on strengthening your core muscles, leading to improved balance and stability. This is particularly beneficial to older adults or those with mobility issues.
Pilates can also improve flexibility, especially in the hips, shoulders, and spine. By incorporating stretching into the exercise routine, Pilates can help increase your range of motion and reduce the risk of injury during other activities such as running or weightlifting. Pilates also works to tone your muscles and can promote weight loss, making it a great addition to any fitness regime.
Mental benefits of Pilates
Pilates also has a positive impact on your mental health, including managing stress and improving relaxation. The focus on breathing and mindfulness in Pilates can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, promoting a sense of calm and positive wellbeing. It can improve mental focus and concentration, too, making it a great form of exercise for those looking to boost their cognitive abilities.
Pilates can also provide a sense of accomplishment and boost self-confidence as you move along in your practice progression. By improving your physical abilities and seeing the results of your hard work, you can feel a sense of pride and motivation to continue pushing yourself.
What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that originated in India some 5,000 years ago. It focuses on incorporating specific movements with breathing techniques and meditation practices to improve flexibility, strength, and balance.
It is a great choice of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels, bringing deep breathing and balanced poses together for a mindful workout, with plenty of benefits for your mental and physical health. All you need to get started is a good yoga mat and some comfortable work out clothes.
There are many different types of yoga, and Triyoga, London’s top destination for yoga and Pilates, explains some of the most popular styles:
- Vinyasa yoga: brings ‘movement that is continuous, smooth and unbroken’, focusing on ‘harmonising the movements of the body and breath in creative sequences.’
- Ashtanga yoga: begins with ‘an opening chant and then moves rhythmically through the sun salutations, standing postures and seated postures, finishing with a closing sequence.’
- Yin yoga: is a ‘quietening practice that cultivates a deep sense of awareness through the release of mind and body stresses’ with ‘poses are held for long periods.’
- Bikram yoga: a.k.a ‘hot yoga’. This is performed in a room heated to 40°C, with a humidity of 40%.
The benefits of yoga
Yoga makes a great addition to your fitness routine, providing a range of benefits for both your mind and body. Let’s take a look at some of the physical and mental benefits of yoga…
Physical benefits of yoga
One of the main physical benefits of yoga is improved flexibility. Regular yoga practice can help increase your body’s range of motion, whilst reducing muscle tension, and improving posture, which can help to alleviate back pain and any other related issues.
Yoga also helps build up your strength, especially in the core, arms, and legs. By holding poses and using your body weight as resistance, you can build lean muscle mass, improve bone density, and even encourage weight loss. Yoga can also improve balance and coordination, which is especially beneficial for older adults or those with mobility issues.
Mental benefits of yoga
As well as the physical benefits, yoga can also be beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing. Breathwork and practising mindfulness throughout the exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety, creating a sense of stillness and serenity. It’s a great form of exercise to bring your mind and body into the present moment, encouraging mental focus and concentration.
Yoga can also promote better sleep, improve overall mood and provide a sense of community as many classes are held in group settings and focus on building a supportive environment.
What is the difference between Pilates and yoga?
While both yoga and Pilates can provide a range of similar physical and mental benefits, there are several key differences between the two practices when it comes to their focus, breathing, movement, and equipment.
The primary difference between yoga and Pilates is their focus. Yoga focuses on achieving unity between the mind and body, while Pilates focuses on building strength and stability in the core muscles. Yoga incorporates a range of poses that are held for varying lengths of time, while Pilates focuses on movements that are more fluid and dynamic. As a result, Pilates typically tends to be faster-paced.
Another key difference between yoga and Pilates is their approach to breathing. In yoga, breathing is seen as a vital part of the practice and is incorporated into each pose. Breathing is often deep and slow, with an emphasis on filling the lungs completely. Pilates incorporates breathing to engage the core muscles and support movement.
The movements in yoga and Pilates are also different. Yoga moves through a range of poses that are held for varying lengths of time, while Pilates incorporates more fluid movements that focus on building strength and stability in the core muscles. Yoga poses often involve stretching, balancing, and twisting, while Pilates movements are often focused on developing strength and control in the muscles. Pilates movement often starts from lying down on the mat, while yoga poses tend to begin from standing.
Yoga typically only requires a mat, with some styles potentially incorporating props such as blocks or straps. Pilates tends to utilise equipment more often, such as resistance bands, stability balls, and reformer machines, to provide added resistance and support for movements.
What do I need to wear to do yoga or Pilates?
Adidas emphasises that ‘flexibility, breathability and comfort are your big three when figuring out what to wear to yoga’ (and the same applies to Pilates), while Nike recommends ‘form fitting’, ‘non-restrictive’, ‘supportive’, and ‘breathable’ clothing for both activities, designed from fabrics that are ‘fast-drying and sweat-wicking’ for the ultimate performance.
Here are some of our favourite items of clothing for both Pilates and yoga:
- Adidas Men’s Training Tank Top, £35: Moisture-absorbing and quick-drying to keep you cool, and made from soft renewable materials to allow you to move freely and comfortably.
- Nike Dri-FIT Flex Men’s Trousers, £72.95: A soft and lightweight option to bend and stretch flexibly with you as you flow. Sweat-wicking thanks to Nike’s Dri-FIT technology.
- Nike Dri-FIT Women’s Long-Sleeve Top, £37.95: Super comfortable and sweat-wicking to keep you cool and dry throughout your workout. Made from 75% sustainable materials.
- Adidas Women’s Essentials High-Waisted Leggings, £38: Keep supported as you move with these stretchy and flexible leggings while staying sweat-free thanks to Adidas’ moisture-absorbing fabric.
Pilates vs. yoga: which one is right for you?
Yoga and Pilates are powerful exercises to connect your mind, body and soul. Both aim to bring a state of peace and positive wellbeing while strengthening and toning to improve your physicalities. Each exercise focuses on controlled movements and practised breathwork to move in tune with your body and target specific areas, with a whole range of benefits on your mental and physical health.
Whether after a more spiritual practice to reset your mindset or a more core-based enduring workout, take into account the different aims and desired outcomes when deciding between yoga and Pilates to make a guided decision. Then breathe in, stretch out, and move fluidly throughout the poses. Namaste.
Want to improve your wellness and read more expert-recommended round-ups? Check out more of our content, including our guide to mindfulness journals: how to start wellness journaling and its benefits, the best eye masks for sleeping, and the best yoga mats, recommended by expert yoga teachers.
Cordelia Aspinall is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media, working across brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeForMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. She has previously worked and written for digital publications including Condé Nast Traveller, The Evening Standard, Cosmopolitan, and several other lifestyle brands.