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Pilates vs Yoga - Many Similarities & Just As Many Differences


December 15, 2014 by Bob Hannum

What Sets Them Apart? Which Is Better? Answers To Pilates vs Yoga From One Who Teaches Both!


Different Types of Stretching

I've been practicing and teaching Pilates and hatha yoga for nearly 4 decades, and I'm eager to share my insights particularly when it comes to the question of Pilates vs yoga. Let's start with stretching.

Both techniques are known for stretching. We know from research that stretching improves flexibility and in certain athletic events, even performance. It's one of 3 kinds of exercise - along with strength training and cardio - that science has found to be absolutely essential for our health. However, the type of stretching in each differs.

Yoga features static stretching which is holding a position for a certain period of time. Pilates does it very differently by slow and controlled movement – stretching while you move – known as dynamic stretching. As for which method is better, Several studies show that dynamic stretch boosts the ability of muscle to recover, reduces the risk of injury, and creates more stretch in less time and with less discomfort.

Complete Exercise

The body needs 3 kinds of exercise – stretching, strength training, and cardio. Few fitnessPilates vs Yoga techniques combine all these in one workout. Pilates is one of them. A few athletic forms of yoga give you 2 of the 3 - stretching and strength training - such as the Iyengar school of yoga, and only the very advanced form of this exercise will give you a cardio workout as well. Pilates includes stretching and strength training in every exercise and at every level, beginner to advanced. Plus, at the advanced level of the mat exercise program, Pilates also gives you a cardio workout. Thus Pilates is a complete exercise method whereas yoga is primarily stretching.

Mind/Body Integration

Both Pilates and yoga connect the body and mind. Few other forms of exercise do this. Concentration and awareness while moving is a hallmark of both methods. Speaking from personal experience as a teacher of hatha yoga, most yoga classes additionally include a spiritual dimension in the form of meditation, chanting or devotion to a teacher. Pilates does not.

Different Origins

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883.  Though he studied eastern forms of exercise including yoga there is no evidence that he tried to integrate it into his method. But anyone who has tried both methods can see influences such as the emphasis on breathing and alignment. Joseph Pilates first developed his exercises which he referred to as “Contrology” nearly 100 years ago. They remained in obscurity until he introduced them to the New York dance world in the 60’s. Contrast this with yoga which goes back millennia. Earliest evidence appears as images of yoga poses on Indus seals dating back 4500 years ago, and experts agree that it's probably much older!


Improved balance and posture are major outcomes of both methods. This is achieved by Yoga vs Pilates stretching and strengthening the entire body using primarily one’s own body rather than equipment or props – a strong feature of both methods.


Both methods have their strict adherents, and both have those seeking to integrate other practices. Latest Pilates fusions include Zumbalates and Piloxing. Yogalates combines yoga and Pilates. 

Freedom From Machinery

Both methods do not require machinery, thus making both convenient and less expensive. You can do them anywhere and anytime without equipment or a gym. Pilates is better known for a method that utilizes special machines, but the mat exercises are the original Pilates method and require no equipment. Both yoga and Pilates are known for incorporating lots of props such as bands and balls.

Importance of Breathing

Breathing is supremely important to both yoga and Pilates. However, yoga far exceeds Pilates in the development of particular breathing mechanics. Bellows breathing and other Pilates breathing styles came from later teachers after Joseph Pilates died. But even these methods don’t come close to the complexity and depth of the pranayama (breathing) yoga techniques which include breathing through different nostrils in different patterns of inhalation, exhalation, and even holding of the breath, all designed to create and move different kinds of energy in the body. Pilates does not come anywhere near this complexity but emphasizes as much breathing as possible in natural breathing patterns coordinated with each movement. I’ve explored the breathing techniques in both Pilates and yoga and have found both to be energizing.

Which Is Better?

Yoga is definitely more effective at integrating a spiritual dimension. Because yoga is primarilyDifferences & Similarities Between Pilates and Yoga stretching I would also say that it's more effective for stress relief.  This last statement is entirely based upon my own personal experience since research indicates that any exercise is effective for stress relief.
If you want more of a complete exercise including strength training and cardio as well as stretching, Pilates is the better choice. There are certain styles of yoga such as Iyengar which can deliver cardio and strength training as well.
Both top my list of the most beneficial exercise methods I have ever experienced. My advice is to learn both so that each is a part of your exercise 'toolbag.' This is better than one OR the other because research shows that the greatest obstacle to regular exercise is boredom! We need a variety of exercises so that when one becomes boring – as all do - we can pick up another without breaking our precious and hard one habit of daily exercise.

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