What’s the difference between Pilates and Yoga?

Beth in black pants and teal top, on a gray Pilates mat in the Pilates exercise of jackknife

Written by Beth Sandlin

November 30, 2021

Which is better, Pilates or Yoga, this is one of the most common questions a Pilates teacher will be asked. Years ago I made a video on the Trifecta Pilates YouTube breaking this down. And it is one of the most popular videos!

So since it’s been a while I wanted to revisit this with a new video and extra info below.  

Pilates was always meant to be a workout and time effective.
Yoga on the other hand was meant to prepare the body for Meditation. And the original practice people would spend hours a day practicing the Yoga Postures. It should be noted that in both Pilates and Yoga we can take the practice beyond the physical practice of a class.

In both Pilates and Yoga there is a focus on breathing. Generally you’ll breath in through your nose and out through your mouth during a Pilates session. And in Yoga, you’ll breath in and out through your nose. (And if you’re new, circle back to this and just focus on following the movements of the class at first.)

Both in Pilates and Yoga, you can move with just the class and no extra equipment. And also in both, props or equipment may be used.

  • Blankets, blocks, or straps can help support a position in Yoga.
  • In Pilates the equipment can be used for support (assistance) or for resistance, adding an extra challenge to the exercises. In addition, there is more equipment in Pilates ranging from larger pieces of equipment you may find in a Pilates studio to much more affordable options for home use. 

In Pilates you’ll move with exercises so you’ll do a few repetitions of an exercise before moving onto another movement.
In Yoga, you’ll move Asanas, or Yoga Poses. You can flow through a series of Yoga Poses but it feels different compared to a Pilates Exercise. 

In Pilates you’ll focus on spinal articulation, core activation and can get a full body workout in. 
In Yoga, although you move through the spine, there is not as much focus on spinal articulation, core activation or getting in a workout. Though there are Yoga classes where this is emphasized. 

And that’s the tricky thing, what type of class you move and who you take class from can influence your experience of Pilates and Yoga. 

Generally I find Yoga to be more grounding, calming and it takes a while for me to integrate back into my day. I find Pilates more uplifting, challenging and energizing.

And don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken and taught many Yoga Classes that were Power Flow classes that were hard. I’ve also taught many Pilates classes that were more restorative. So we can personalize the class based upon your goals, energy levels and how long you’ve been moving with the system. 

If it seems like Pilates and Yoga are the same, here is another way to think about them.

In Yoga you stretch, finding support and strength.
In Pilates you workout, finding stretch, strength and support as well. 

Many people like Pilates who want more of a workout and find Yoga to be too still. In addition, Pilates has never been a Spiritual Practice. Pilates can be helpful in this regard, especially from a Trauma Informed perspective, because the roots of Yoga are spiritual. 

Honestly, I like to move with both Pilates and Yoga. And it doesn’t have to be either or. 

But I’ll leave you with a suggestion from my first Pilates teacher. At first stick with either Pilates or Yoga. 

You want to feel confident in the movement system before learning a new one. The reason why is that the movements can be similar, but how we teach breathing, control, support, flow and the overall class is much different. If you’re new to Pilates or Yoga this can be confusing. 

At first I liked Pilates more so I stuck with that for a LONG time (10 years) before trying Yoga again. And for me, that was perfect. I felt comfortable in my knowledge of Pilates when a Yoga teacher offered a different perspective. 

At the end of the day, it’s not about right or wrong. It’s moving with the system that you enjoy and feels good!

And if you’re new to Pilates, try the 7-Day Pilates for Beginners Series as a way to dip your toes into the Pilates Method. It’s also a great way to refine how you move with Pilates.

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