The difference between yoga and Pilates, and which one is best for you

The difference between yoga and Pilates, and which one is best for you

Yoga and Pilates are two popular low-impact forms of exercise that encompass many different muscles, and largely centre around a series of stretches, forms and poses. Despite having very different origins, they are often grouped together as ‘mindful exercise’ and might be used interchangeably by those without much experience of either. 

Though not without their similarities, the techniques are quite distinct from one another, in some ways serving differing purposes. In short, yoga puts an emphasis on balance and flexibility while often being used as a form of, or aid to, meditation. Pilates is characterised by muscle endurance, precise movements and core strength. Both involve breath control, posture alignment and work on the core, while requiring little to no equipment. As you would expect, both also carry a number of health benefits. 

Why you should choose yoga 

This ancient art has its root in India, taking its name from the Sanskrit yuj, which partly means ‘to yoke.’ Cattle may be linked together by a wooden yoke, meaning their movements are defined and controlled. However, the word has been more commonly interpreted as the verb ‘to concentrate’, something we can clearly recognise even in the modern version of the practice, and in its links to meditation.  

Yoga has traditionally been considered a very spiritual discipline, however, it has seen recent popularity in the western world because of its health and mental benefits. It’s essential elements are asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing). Other elements such as concentration, withdrawal of senses and self-discipline are outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Though the methodology has a long and rich history, modern adopters may find themselves drawn to the practice for personal reasons, and have a very individual relationship with it. 

A typical yoga workout will see you moving from one asana to the next, aiming for fluidity and controlled stillness. This will help stretch and strengthen the muscles, while potentially inducing a state of calm. There are different levels and varieties of yoga to match varying levels of experience and physical mobility. This means that it is suitable for all age ranges.

Some popular styles are:

- Hatha: The most common and broad variety of yoga. It usually involves a slow, relaxing pace with longer holding of the poses. Ideal for beginners or those who favour a non-strenuous workout. 

- Vinyasa: Another broad category, yet this one is typically characterised by a more energetic flow and seamless movement between each pose. This is synchronised with breath. As such this form of yoga can engage the cardiovascular system to a much greater degree and is a considerable step up in challenge from Hatha yoga. However, this can also be done slowly.

- Yin: A notably slow yoga involving careful, mindful movements, usually carried out sitting or lying down. Poses may be held for up to five minutes invoking a meditative state. Not only well-suited to beginners, but a good counterpart to more dynamic styles. 

- Ashtanga: A dynamic and exhaustive style resembling a full-body workout. Poses are held for five breaths before transitioning. It is advisable to do this under guidance. 


Yoga has numerous health benefits making it a great supplementary form of exercise. It has been found to be good for heart health, reducing inflammation and improving blood-flow. Many users feel both more energised and relaxed as a result of regular yoga sessions, while it has also been reported to help manage stress and improve sleep. 

You may favour this over Pilates if you are seeking a more unified mind-body experience. It also perhaps has a greater focus on relaxed breathing and may be considered a more calming experience overall. The imagery, and history, of yoga have certainly gone a long way in achieving its modern popularity. While you shouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to buy into the hype, yoga’s mythical prestige can be an enticing gateway into a more mindful lifestyle. 

Why you should choose Pilates

Named after its creator and German fitness pioneer, Joseph Pilates, this practice was influenced by his experience in an internment camp during WW1. There he developed a series of exercises to help relieve the monotony and waning health of fellow prisoners, in a methodology that he would later call ‘Contrology’. 

As that name suggests, Pilates can require a lot of discipline and control. Its primary aims are to develop and strengthen muscles across the body and generally bolster health and wellbeing. While it may involve equipment in some instances the practice largely focuses on the utility of the body. Its minimal starting requirements, like yoga, are a part of the appeal. 

Although less wide-ranging than yoga, Pilates can be categorised into different styles. This includes:

  • Classical Pilates: This refers to the original teachings used by Joseph Pilates and his wife. Many of the key practitioners of this method have worked under guidance of the man or his successors. Some techniques require specific apparatus, such as the reformer. 
  • Mat Pilates: This covers the techniques that are carried out exclusively on a mat or the floor. They develop strength in the abdominals, lower back and pelvic floor, as well as the upper body. A popular group style that is ideal for beginners. 
  • Contemporary Pilates: Similar to the traditional methodology but with an additional focus on physiotherapy, making it suitable for pregnant women and those with reduced mobility. 

When practiced regularly, Pilates can improve flexibility and stability, allowing for freer movement. Posture and the core are given a lot of attention. As an often intense exercise, it is better for losing weight than yoga, although either works best when used alongside more vigorous cardiovascular and aerobic exercises, such as swimming and running. 

Pilates is undoubtedly better for building muscle and core strength. It is effective in aiding muscle restoration and widely used as an alternative physical therapy, though it’s important to consult a GP before using it to address physical ailments. All things considered, Pilates is not something to be scoffed at. Despite being hardly a century old, it has become something of a health movement, seeing a wide range of advocates from across the globe. 


This comparison doesn’t intend to pit the practices against each other – you may even want to try out both. While they share many benefits, they also each offer a unique experience. Make the most