What is the difference between Pilates and Yoga?


Joseph Pilates (1883-1967)  was born in Germany and during his lifetime he developed the ‘Pilates Method’ that drew on both Western and Eastern traditions that included Yoga. Yoga (Hatha Yoga) is an Eastern tradition originating from North India and Hinduism. It is the physical manifestation of a vast system of meditation and spirituality whose philosophy believes that better spiritual health starts with the physical body and physical health.

Areas of Difference


  • More dynamic, with focus on deep and lateral breathing control and targeted muscle strengthening. The method can incorporate the use of various apparatus and accessories such as the Pilates Ball to increase resistance.
  • Places emphasis on exercise technique and ‘quality over quantity’ in developing and strengthening the “powerhouse” region of lower torso and deepest layers of abdominal muscles (abs), buttocks and strong back muscles. This results in core stabilization, lengthening of the spine and in producing a leaner, aesthetic body sculpturing effect.
  • Pilates instructs one to breathe through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
Pilates typically has a core of six principles:
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Centering
  • Breathing
  • Flow
  • Precision and training to move efficiently with minimal impact on the body.
  • Focused on uniting the body, mind and spirit and emphasises the meditative element. The view that both mind and body are one means that given the optimum environment and circumstance, the body has the ability to heal itself. The importance of the mind and of living a balanced life with spiritual happiness and inner peace is paramount.
  • More passive and emphasises stretching and  static holding of poses (Yoga Asanas) to dispense stagnant energy and allow chi (energy) to flow. Learning to center your mind and condition the body eases tension, de-stresess and lowers blood pressure. Focus is on overall body movements, flow and finding stillness even in movement by focussing on the breath.
  • Yoga is performed primarily using mat work techniques with minimal props.
  • Is said to be the only medium through which you can offer a massage to all the internal glands and organs of your body.
  • Yoga stresses being aware of breathing, inhaling and exhaling fully and completely through your nose.
Yoga typically has a core of 5 principles:
  • Proper Relaxation (Shavasana)
  • Proper Exercise (Asanas)
  • Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
  • Proper Diet (Sattvic )
  • Positive Thinking and Meditation (Dhyana)

Areas of Commonality

Although Pilates and Yoga differ in the emphasis placed on various aspects of exercise technique and their role in the person, both disciplines have commonality and complement each other enough, such that they can be done in conjunction with each other and enjoyed by both women and men and all age groups.

  • Improved core strength and stability from Pilates gives Yoga students the ability to control and expand their Yoga poses safely. Conversely, Pilates students gain from the expansive stretching derived through studying Yoga.
  • Both activities should be taught by a qualified instructor who has undertaken in-depth training and understands fully the techniques involved. They should also have a good knowledge of human anatomy and movement.
  • As with all things that are worthwhile, both Yoga and Pilates require time, patience and regular structured practice for you to experience their full benefits.
  • Both forms are ‘mind body’ programs that require physical and mental focus and stamina and can be done in group or single settings. Although meditation and chanting are unlikely to be taught in a typical Pilates class, Joseph Pilates did study Yoga and viewed his method as a ‘mind-body’ enhancer that went beyond pure improvement in physical fitness,”….it is only through Contrology that this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind, and spirit can ever be attained.” Yoga’s approach is completely holistic in nature and involves all 3 elements of mind, body and spirit. However, many Yoga classes taught in Western cultures offer little or no philosophy and are acceptable to all religious persuasions.
  • Breath control is important to both disciplines and viewed as a great cleanser of the body with detoxifying, rejuvenating and heightening awareness properties.
  • Both Pilates and Yoga have spawned variations based on their respective original ‘classic’  style. Examples of these include:
    • Yoga: Power, Bikram, Viniyoga, Jivamukti, Yin, Forrest, Vinyasa, Ashtanga
    • Pilates: Winsor Pilates, Scott Pilates, Power Pilates
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