Pilates vs Yoga: 4 Ways They Are Different

By Cassie Piasecki

Pilates vs yoga … how are they different? As a Pilates instructor, I get asked this all the time.  There are a lot of reasons, but these are my most common answers.

Pilates vs Yoga: 4 Ways They Differ

1. One is Ancient, and the Other is Modern

According to yoga historians, yoga dates back at least 5,000 years.  Joseph Pilates, on the other hand, started developing his exercises during World War I, but it wasn’t until he came to New York City in 1926 that Pilates was taught in what we now call a Pilates studio.

While yoga poses remain deeply rooted in ancient traditions, Pilates continues to evolve.  Joseph Pilates died in 1967, but the lineage of Pilates instructors continued to modify the exercises and the equipment.  The new exercises and equipment take into consideration the way our bodies live and move today.

While many instructors adhere to the classical exercises, there is little doubt that if Joseph Pilates were alive today, he would have developed exercises to combat the effects of sitting at a computer all day and looking at tiny cellphone screens.  Finding an instructor that combines both the classical repertoire with contemporary exercises is the new ideal.

2. Inhale and Exhale

Don’t worry, you’ll be breathing in both yoga and Pilates.  Your yoga instructor will ask you to focus your breathing in your belly.  It becomes rhythmic and can be meditative.  In Pilates, every exercise starts with activating your “powerhouse”, better known as your core and abdominal muscles. This means your instructor will ask you to breathe into your back or ribs. This style of breath is called “lateral breathing.”

Lateral breathing will allow you to keep the abdominal muscles activated while still being able to breathe deeply. One way to learn lateral breathing is to pull your belly button in towards your spine and then as you inhale, visualize your ribcage expanding. Release your belly button and do one deep inhale and exhale from the low belly. You will easily be able to distinguish the difference.

3. That Machine and The Muscles

Yoga focuses on flexibility, flow of movement and large muscles groups while using a mat and props, such as blocks and straps.  Pilates focuses on strength, muscle toning and flexibility while using larger equipment or apparatuses.

The Reformer is the most common apparatus found in Pilates studios. It uses springs to create resistance while performing the exercises. In yoga, the mat and your body provide resistance to flow through the exercises. The resistance cannot be changed. Your workout will be structured around what your body can do that day. When you work on the Reformer, or any of the Pilates apparatuses, your instructor can play with the resistance to assist you on days when you need it or to push you on days when you feel stronger.

4. Mind and Body Without Chanting

There is no doubt that spirituality is the biggest difference between yoga and Pilates. Many people choose to do yoga to help calm the mind and relieve stress.  Pilates can offer many of the same benefits without getting spiritual.  You’ll be focusing on lateral breathing, activating the muscles, and maintaining balance while working on the Reformer. This gives the mind a 60-minute reprieve from the stressors of the day. You will leave physically worked and mentally refreshed.

As with yoga, the quality of the class will depend on the training of the instructor. You should look for certified instructors who have completed a 400+-hour training program to ensure that your session will be not only effective, but also safe.  The Pilates Method Alliance is a fantastic resource for locating highly-trained Pilates instructors.  

Always check with your health practitioner before starting any new exercise routine.  

(Image: Shutterstock)

About Cassie Piasecki
Cassie Piasecki, NLC, is a Pilates Method Alliance Certified Pilates Teacher, personal trainer, and Nutritious Life Certified Nutritionist based in Newport Beach, California.

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