Yoga or Pilates? Understanding 12 Distinctions to Make an Informed Choice

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Yoga or Pilates; which practice is right for you? While both seem like relaxing ways to end a busy day and get a good quality workout, is one perhaps more suited to your needs than the other?

The only way to find out is to do a detailed comparison of each practice, and take the time to at least visit a class of each, so that you can get a better feel for it. I decided to piece together 12 differences that are easily noticed between Yoga and Pilates, for newbies thinking about getting into either practice. Now you can decide for yourself. 

These are 12 differences between Yoga and Pilates in terms of:

  1. Breathing techniques,
  2. Mental health benefits (depression),
  3. Effectiveness of toning abdominal muscles,
  4. Flexibility target areas,
  5. History and background, 
  6. Physical objectives and goals,
  7. Equipment and props,
  8. The method and associated mindset,
  9. The movements/stances,
  10. Weight loss,
  11. Potential for back injury,
  12. The actual end result.

To someone who has not been exposed to either Yoga or Pilates, it can be difficult to tell just how these two practices differ in the abovementioned areas. You might be wondering; how can two practices that seem so similar at a quick glance, actually be so different? Do not worry – it is all laid out for you below. It all really comes down to the basis of each practice. 

Keep reading to find out whether Pilates or Yoga is the right choice for you. 

How Yoga and Pilates Differs in 12 Interesting Ways

Learning a bit more about Yoga and Pilates can give you a better understanding of what each is about and whether or not it is the right choice for your lifestyle and needs. You never know, perhaps both are right for you! Yoga and Pilates differ in the following 12 ways:

1. Breathing techniques.

Breathing is a fairly important focus in both Yoga and Pilates, but essentially the techniques are quite different in both practices.

Yoga practitioners are taught to focus closely on calm, deep, and steady breathing throughout a session. The deep, steady breathing in Yoga is done in order to ensure deep relaxation and a meditative state. In Pilates, breathing is more focused on driving energy to the right muscle groups for more stamina and focused exercises. While the intention in Pilates is to relieve muscle tension and ensure that the right amount of oxygen flows through the body, the breathing is different from that of Yoga. 

2. Mental health benefits (depression and anxiety).

Many people look for a martial art, exercise or discipline to focus on when they suffer mental problems like depression and anxiety

Yoga is considered an ideal art for boosting mental health, as it is a meditative discipline and serves as a great form of therapy. It focuses on helping practitioners to calm their minds and bodies and focus on their breathing. It provides an effective way to distract from the stresses of everyday life and also promotes a quieter, more relaxed mindset. Of course, it also adds a few feel-good endorphins to the mix.

Pilates, because it has no spiritual or meditative focus, is not particularly recommended for boosting mental health. However, it must be noted that any form of exercise that produces endorphins, Pilates included, is good for mitigating the symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

3. Effectiveness of toning abdominal muscles.

Both Yoga and Pilates are great for a full-body workout. They tone major muscle groups and build muscle strength at the same time. However, it is Pilates that offers the quickest results when toning abdominal muscles. This means that Pilates practice results in a firmer, flatter stomach in a shorter space of time. This is because Pilates specifically focuses on the core, while Yoga spreads its focus over the entire body, mind, and soul. 

4. Flexibility target areas.

You might think that both Yoga and Pilates focus on improving flexibility, but that is not entirely true. Yoga focuses on whole-body flexibility, and the more advanced a practitioner becomes, the more flexible both muscles and joints will also become. Pilates is quite different in that it aims to relax tense muscles and build on muscle strength overall. Its focus is not on joint flexibility. 

5. History and background.

Where do Yoga and Pilates come from? Are they both ancient arts? No, actually, they are not both ancient. 

Yoga is an ancient Indian art that dates back to over 5,000 years ago. It is deeply rooted in spirituality and is more a way of life than just a physical exercise. Pilates is quite a modern discipline that was developed as a form of physical rehabilitation by Joseph Pilates in 1920. It doesn’t have the same or even remotely similar ancient roots that Yoga does. It is also not rooted in spirituality and is simply a physical form of exercise.

6. Physical objectives and goals.

Yoga and Pilates have different intentions and objectives. Yoga requires its practitioners to focus their intentions inwardly. It places importance on making a connection between one’s mind, body, and soul (spiritual side). Yoga is quite meditative. Pilates is different in that it is not a spiritual practice or meditative by any means. It is based on principles that focus on controlling each movement so that exercises are precise and effective.

7. Equipment and props.

Many people want to know if Yoga and Pilates require equipment. Yoga requires nothing more than a safe, quiet space and a yoga mat. Pilates can be done with just a mat, but there are various workouts where props and items of equipment are used, including the Wunda Chair, Reformer, Tower, and Barre. These are all items specifically used by the Pilates community. 

8. The method and associated mindset.

In Yoga, it is important for practitioners to quiet the mind and make a tangible connection between both body and mind. The mindset for Yoga practice is centered, focused, and at peace. A Yoga class usually ends with a few minutes of relaxation called “savasana”.  

In Pilates, there is the use of exercise equipment and challenging positions where the body is forced to focus on precise control of movement and muscles. There is no meditative mindset required in Pilates classes. The class is purely focused on mental and physical strength building.

9. The movements/stances.

If you watch a Yoga class, you will notice that students carry out a series of poses that are often held for several minutes at a time. The poses are sometimes repeated a number of times while breathing deeply. Movements are slow and concentrated in Yoga. 

In Pilates, the movements and stances are carried out much faster. There are no poses that are held for any length of time during Pilates classes. The movements are quick, precise, and only repeated a few times. The focus is on correct technique, alignment, and precision. Essentially, Pilates focuses on exercises designed for the most possible impact in the shortest space of time. 

10. Weight loss.

While neither Yoga nor Pilates is a cardiovascular workout that will help you quickly shed weight, it is possible to tone up and lose a bit of weight if you practice regularly. Out of the two disciplines, Pilates offers more upbeat exercises with weighted equipment, which can result in burning more calories and losing more weight overall.

11. Potential for back injury.

Both Yoga and Pilates can be useful for strengthening the back muscles, but it is Pilates that is probably better suited to someone with an existing back condition. 

While some Yoga classes are even aimed at relieving back tension and strengthening back muscles specifically, it must be noted that many of the movements, if done wrong or recklessly, can cause further back injury or exacerbate an existing condition. 

12. The actual end result.

When practicing Yoga, you can expect to feel relaxed and centered. You will also develop better muscle tone and enhanced physical fitness. Yoga provides a full-body workout with a strong focus on mental clarity too. 

On the other hand, Pilates is designed to be more of a physical workout and pays attention to main muscle groups, such as the muscles in the lats and outer thighs, hips, and the spine. Pilates is excellent for core development, and you will ultimately see the physical results far quicker than someone who practices Yoga

You can experience even better results if you combine Yoga and Pilates as part of your regular exercise regimen. 

Taking everything into account

The differences between Yoga and Pilates may seem minor, but in physical practice, they are quite noticeable. 

If you are looking for a meditative and somewhat spiritual experience by carrying out a practice deeply rooted in tradition and belief systems, then Yoga is for you. If you are looking for a practice that is more physical and presents quick body toning results without the spiritual aspect, Pilates is for you. 

Of course, it is highly recommended to attend at least one class of each so that you can get a more up-close-and-personal experience to base your decision on. 

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.