What is the difference between yoga and pilates?

Learn about the similarities and differences between these two popular forms of exercise

Written by spunout


Both yoga and Pilates are increasingly popular forms of exercise. While there are many similarities between the two, there are also some key differences. Understanding these differences means you know what to expect when going along to a yoga or Pilates class.

What are yoga and Pilates?

The more you know about each individual activity, the more it will help to understand the key differences between the two.


Yoga is a practice which began in ancient India, and has evolved over thousands of years into many different styles. Yoga uses stretching, movement, breathing methods, relaxation, and meditation to exercise your body and mind. There are a number of different types of yoga, some focus on moving slowly and holding poses for a long time, and others are fast-paced, moving quickly between positions and getting your heart rate up.

Some people approach yoga as a spiritual practice, while others see it as a way to relax, stretch the muscles in the body, get some exercise, and to relieve tension. The main focus of yoga is the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.

Learn more about yoga here.


Pilates is a form of exercise that concentrates on strengthening the core muscles in the body. Using a series of moves and postures, the exercises work the abdominal muscles to help you improve your posture and build strength, and it also helps to increase flexibility.

Created by Joseph Pilates in the 20th Century, Pilates is built on ten core principles that focus on using proper breathing into the ribcage, achieving the correct alignment or posture, and using core muscles to control the movement. Props like blocks, ropes, exercise balls, foam rollers, and rubber bands are often used to help achieve certain postures. The main focus of a Pilates class is working on the ten core principles. 

Some Pilates classes are done on a mat, like in yoga. Other Pilates classes are done using a piece of exercise equipment called a reformer. 

Learn more about Pilates and the different types of classes here.

What is the difference between yoga and Pilates?

On the outside, yoga and Pilates have many similarities. They often share postures and exercises, and many of the benefits are the same, such as improved flexibility, toning muscles, and relieving stress. However, they are two different practices, and the experience you have in a yoga class will probably be different to a Pilates class.

Here are the key differences between yoga and Pilates.

Yoga as meditative

The main difference between the two is that yoga is usually a meditative practice, with emphasis on the mind, body, spirit connection. It is an opportunity to relax and release tension and stress, at the same time as stretching, increasing flexibility, and improving balance.

While some of the postures might be the same as those done in Pilates, they usually have different names, and there could be an emotional or spiritual meaning behind the posture that you won’t have in Pilates.

Pilates as physical exercise

Pilates, on the other hand, focuses on the body, with emphasis on core strength, toning muscles, improving posture, and getting a full-body workout. It is more structured, with moves and postures designed to work a certain area of the body. There is more cardio work involved in Pilates, and less focus on spirituality.

Your focus throughout the Pilates class will be on the exercise and getting your movements right. The instructor will most likely keep count of how many times you’ve done a movement before moving on to the next position, which you’re less likely to find in yoga. 

That being said, a well taught Pilates program is both a physical and mental practice. You need to be aware, concentrate, and focus on the movements, and the benefits of calming your mind to focus during your class can be carried out into your day to day life with regular practise.

Choosing between yoga and Pilates

The only way to know which one is for you is to try them out. Both yoga and Pilates offer many of the same benefits, but you might find one class more appealing then the other. For example, if your main goal is to get a workout, then maybe Pilates is a better option. If you’re looking for a way to relax and calm your mind at the same time as stretching out your body, yoga might be better.

You can also practice both at the same time. You will find that your practice in one can help to improve your practice in the other, and you’ll get the best of both worlds.

If you have any injuries or if you’re unsure that yoga or Pilates is suitable for you, talk to your doctor before starting a new form of exercise. Make sure you speak to the instructor before your first class to let them know you’re a beginner, and inform them of any new injuries you might have gotten over the week before every class.


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