At first glance it may seem that yoga and Pilates are very similar. They both focus on postures and breathing to improve the function of the human body.
Yoga vs Pilates Philosophical Difference
The most fundamental difference between yoga and Pilates is that yoga has a deep, philosophical basis. Its focus is on uniting the body, mind and spirit to bring about harmony and well-being.
Yoga the Elder Statesman
Yoga is at least 5,000 years old and is steeped in ancient Hindu culture. Besides challenging our physical ability in asana (poses), yoga uses other techniques such as pranayama (breathing), chanting, visualisation and meditation to balance all aspects of our lives.
Pilates isn’t even 100 years old and, by comparison, is a relative toddler. It was developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates in Germany to rehabilitate soldiers returning from the Great War. When Joseph Pilates moved to the USA his system of exercise became popular with dancers who loved the strong, long, lean muscles his techniques developed.
Yoga vs Pilates Poses
Yoga poses, known as asana, have specific physical and mental benefits. They can improve flexibility and strength, boost vitality, influence the function of the body’s internal organs, improve our capacity to cope with stress and improve mental clarity.
Pilates is a series of exercises that focus predominantly on the abdomen, thighs, legs and back. Pilates engages deep core muscles that help support our spine and improve our posture. Exercises are done on a floor mat or on special Pilates equipment. Both are designed to use your own body weight to create resistance and improve muscle strength and endurance safely.
Yoga vs Pilates and the Mind
Although many yoga classes focus purely on the physical aspect of yoga asana, the primary function of asana is to bring about harmony so you can meditate. The union of body, mind and spirit is at the heart of yoga.
Pilates also puts great emphasis on the body and mind connection but there is no spiritual focus. The emphasis is on controlled, precise movements executed with complete focus.
Yoga vs Pilates Breath
Both Pilates and yoga place importance on the breath. In yoga generally you breathe in and out through the nose unless you are doing a specific breathing technique such as sitali, or cooling breath. There are many different types of breathing techniques that can bring about profound changes in the body, mind and spirit. It’s not uncommon to find whole classes devoted to pranayama (breathing).
In Pilates you are encouraged to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth whilst gently engaging the deep abdominal muscles. Joseph Pilates believed the key to good health was in deep breathing, particularly focussing on the exhale.
Yoga vs Pilates Health Benefits
Along with all the benefits outlined above, both yoga and Pilates come with long-term health gains. Yoga has many physical benefits such as improved flexibility, strength and balance and muscle tone. Yoga also works at a much deeper level, stimulating digestion, circulation, respiration and hormonal balance to name a few. It is mentally and emotionally restorative and can help manage or prevent serious illness such as osteoporosis and diabetes.
Pilates improves your posture, strength, balance and endurance. It also enhances respiration and circulation. Pilates stabilises the spine and pelvis, helps prevent back pain and improves spinal health.
Can You Do Both Yoga and Pilates?
For years I spurned the idea of ever doing Pilates. This new fandangled exercise technique certainly wasn’t for a yoga purist like me. Then I injured my back and saw a physiotherapist/Pilates teacher. I found Pilates complemented my yoga practise, putting a different emphasis on how I executed asana. Yoga, on the other hand, helped my balance and concentration in Pilates.
Whether you do yoga or Pilates or choose to do both you’re sure to find them deeply rewarding and the benefits will be felt in both your body and your mind.