Yoga vs. Pilates: 7 Characteristics to Spot the Differences

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Yoga and Pilates are often mentioned simultaneously when it comes to types of sports that promote strength and flexibility, but are relaxing at the same time. Both Yoga and Pilates help you to become more mindful, relieve stress and back pain, and find a way to start a new lifestyle. 

Especially beginners who want to start with Yoga or Pilates can rarely see the differences between them and often don’t know where to start. If you look at the exercises, you will initially notice many similarities. 

There are many things the two have in common: 

  • Both are suitable for beginners of all ages
  • They increase physical and mental fitness
  • They relieve back pain
  • Both strengthen your muscles and improve your perception of your body
  • Many exercises in Pilates have their origin in Yoga

In fact the chance of starting Pilates is 17% higher for people who already have experiences with yoga than those who have never done Yoga before. 

We at Mindmonia have taken a closer look at these two similar sports and figured that Yoga and Pilates have a lot in common, but are also very different at the same time.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Is Yoga?

Women doing Pilates/Yoga together

Yoga is a philosophy of life that combines Mindfulness, breathing (pranayama), postures (asanas), meditation exercises, and nutrition. 

If you practice Yoga regularly, you bring your body, mind, and soul into harmony. 

Since Yoga allows you to pursue different goals with it, many different styles have developed. Some aim at awakening your spirituality. Others focus on your physical fitness. 

No matter what you want to use Yoga for, you will always have a connection to Mindfulness, because Mindfulness is deeply rooted in the philosophy of Yoga. 

What Is Pilates?

Woman doing Pilates on a Pilates Ball

Pilates is a sport that challenges your whole body. It originated from training methods used in boxing, but is now particularly popular with ballet dancers because it strengthens the muscles and fascia and improves posture.

Pilates is today offered in numerous fitness courses. In the United States, the number of people doing Pilates has been consistently high over the last 10 years. In 2018, 9.08 million people practiced it. (Source)

In Pilates, there are six principles:

  • Focusing on the center of the body
  • Breathing
  • Control of body and mind
  • Concentration
  • Precision of movement
  • Flow of movement

A Pilates class consists of strengthening and stretching exercises. Many of them originate from yoga exercises. Pilates training improves your muscle strength, endurance, coordination, and flexibility in the long term, making it an excellent complement to cardio training.

This reflects in a survey conducted by the fitness platform HFE UK in 2019: 70% of all British gym visitors prefer dynamic and powerful Pilates to relaxing Yoga.

That doesn’t mean that Pilates is better than Yoga or vice versa. Ultimately it depends on your personal goals. Do you want to do more for your body, or are you looking for a way to bring more awareness into your life?

To give you an idea of which of the two is most suitable for which scenario, we will now look at their main differences.  

Yoga vs. Pilates: The 7 Biggest Differences

Woman doing Yoga

The difference between Pilates and Yoga isn’t easy to spot at first glance. Both seem very similar, mainly since some Pilates exercises originate from Yoga.

To better highlight the differences, we have defined the following comparison criteria: 

  • Origin
  • Role of body and mind 
  • Mindfulness
  • Styles
  • Exercises
  • Physical Strain
  • Breathing

Difference 1: Origin

Yoga comes from India and has been practiced, passed on, and changed over thousands of years. According to the original philosophy, Yoga is a path of eight components that a Yogi should integrate into his life to find enlightenment.

Pilates, on the other hand, is a relatively young sport. The German Joseph Hubert Pilates developed it in the 1920s – originally as training for soldiers. 

Over the years, however, more and more yoga Asanas found their way into Pilates. Well-known examples are the posture of the child’s pose (Balasana), upward plank pose (Purvottanasana), and the bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana).

Difference 2: Role of Body and Mind

Probably the most crucial difference between Pilates and Yoga is their focus on body and mind.

Pilates primarily focuses on the body. Yoga, on the other hand, on combining body and mind.

Yoga does have styles that promote physical and muscular development, but it’s more a holistic way of life. Pilates has a weaker connection to Mindfulness and serves more as a workout for the whole body. 

Modern Yoga can also be practiced as a form of sport. Those who want to live more mindful and are open to spirituality will find in Yoga a philosophy of life that is more in demand than ever in our society.

Difference 3: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a much bigger part of Yoga than it is of Pilates.

In Yoga, it’s not only practiced through breathing and Asanas, but it’s considered to affect your entire life. The goal of Mindfulness in Yoga is to manage stressful situations better and to relax more easily.

In the same way, it helps to calm down your thoughts and to develop a positive attitude towards life.

Pilates, on the other hand, is all about the athletic aspect.

Difference 4: Styles

Both Pilates and Yoga have different styles. However, the Yoga styles are more diverse than those of Pilates.

In Yoga, there are various types, such as Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram, or SUP Yoga. You can find a detailed overview of the 10 most popular types here.

In Pilates, one of the differences is whether you train with or without a mat. Classical Pilates can be done without the mat, whereas in clinical Pilates, you train on the mat. 

Difference 5: Exercises

In Yoga, there are different standing, sitting and lying postures in which you perform the poses. You can find an overview and instructions on basic yoga postures for beginners and intermediate here.  

Pilates focuses mainly on the body center. Besides, the exercises are done with aids such as a Pilates ring, a Pilates roll, or a Pilates ball. 

Difference 6: Physical Strain

Man doing Pilates

Pilates is a whole-body workout that is ideal for you if you want to move and work out actively. It mainly supports muscle growth, and you burn more fat on average.

If we compare the different styles of Pilates with those of Yoga, we find that most Pilates styles are very physical and sweaty. Yoga styles, on the other hand, come in many different forms. 

If you want to lose weight, the strenuous Pilates will bring you visible results faster than the relaxing Yoga.

In every Pilates session, you focus on one area of your body: the area between your breastbone and pubic bone. It’s stimulated with specific tension exercises and breathing exercises. 

This makes Pilates an intensive training for your abdominal and pelvic muscles. 

The positive effect on your body occurs more quickly due to the intensity of the Pilates exercises.

If you want to make your body more flexible, reduce stress, gently release tension, Yoga is the better choice. Your body doesn’t change that fast, but still builds up muscles in the long run.

Difference 7: Breathing

Breathing plays a central role in both Yoga and Pilates. However, they differ in the way you breathe.

In Yoga, breathing is called “pranayama” and is an essential pillar of the yoga practice. You breathe in and out through the nose. Depending on the yoga style, there are several types of breathing: belly breath, fire breath, lion’s breath, ocean breathing, or alternate nostril breathing.

Pranayama is consciously used during yoga exercises. You breathe deeper while moving, and you breathe lighter when you change postures. In Pilates, the breath serves mainly as a support and has no meditative effect. 

Yoga vs. Pilates: Summarizing Comparison

To summarize you could say there is no right or wrong when choosing “Yoga or Pilates”.

In the following table, you see the differences at a glance:

CriterionYogaPilates
OriginMillennia-old philosophy of life from IndiaOriginated last century as a training for soldiers
Role of body and mindFocus on combining body and mindFocus on the body
MindfulnessMain focusMinor focus
StylesVariety of different Yoga styles with different benefitsSmall number of different styles, mostly with the same focus
ExercisesSmooth transitions between the exercisesFocused on the body center
Physical StrainDepending on the style quiet and relaxing, but also exhaustingPhysical, sweaty
BreathingImportant pillar of Yoga with meditative effectSupportive role during exercises, no meditative effect

Conclusion

Yoga and Pilates are great ways to get some exercise into your life and do something good for your body. Both Yoga and Pilates have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to you to decide whether Yoga or Pilates will bring you closer to your goal.

Pilates is a sport that helps you to shape and strengthen your body. It’s excellent if you want to lose weight. If that is your goal, you should give Pilates a chance. 

If you want to combine Mindfulness with physical exercise, we recommend Yoga or Qigong.

If you still can’t make up your mind or want to do both, check out Yogilates.

Learn more about Yoga and Mindfulness on our blog and through our free newsletter. You can sign up directly below this article. We are looking forward to welcoming you to our community. Thank you for reading.

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