Differences Between Yoga and Pilates

by Stephanie on September 28, 2014


This discipline has an Eastern-based philosophy.

“Yoga is a journey of self-discovery,” says Leigh Crews, a registered yoga teacher (RYT) and spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE).


Pilates is more concerned with strengthening the body than the mind. But achieving a toned body through Pilates still requires the mind to be engaged.

“Pilates is also called ‘contrology’,” says June Kahn, owner of June Kahn’s Bodyworks, LLC, and director of Pilates for Lakeshore Athletic Clubs in Boulder, CO. “It’s using the mind to control the muscle.”

Yoga is an ancient way of life intended to united body and mind through stretching, poses that strengthen, breathing and meditation. What makes it more than a workout is the yoga lifestyle – embracing values like tolerance and abstinence from violence, lying and stealing. Modern yoga practices are based on the teaching of thousands of years of instruction, but most in the West practice variations of Hatha Yoga, which combines postures (asanas) with specific breathing techniques (pranayama).

Pilates was developed in the early 1900’s by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate World War I soldiers. It can be split into two very difference experiences – those using a Pilates machine (a “Reformer”) and mat exercises. The instruction combines low-impact flexibility and core strengthening exercise utilizing body weight and callisthenic training.

Despite their different pasts, though, Yoga and Pilates overlap in several ways. An instructor leads both. There are those that go on to solo experiences, but it is highly recommended that you learn with a licensed professional. Both have been used to rehabilitate a many types of injuries and syndromes – some surprising – including (but not limited to) stroke, drug abuse, injuries and anxiety.

Yoga has been proven to be especially effective for emotional and mental benefits, while Pilates is used more often for physical benefits and rehabilitation. Pilates has been shown to improve core muscle endurance, flexibility and upper body strength. Yoga is effective for improving mental and emotional health by calming the sympathetic nervous system (which controls stress) and regulating hormone levels.

That’s not all yoga does. One study found yoga lowered BMI and improved endurance and flexibility in school children with asthma, but there is ongoing debate as to whether yoga is a good substitute for more traditional forms of exercise.

There is no need to choose between the two. Most health care professionals will suggest that you try both to see which one suits what you need at that time in your life. You may even choose both. Some yoga teachers say that Pilates helps build strength to improve yoga performance. Because stretching lowers the risk of muscle injuries, it’s unlikely that combining the two would cause overuse.

Looking At The Numbers

If you’re interested in burning more calories, some advanced yoga and Pilates sessions move at a faster pace. Doing Bikram or power yoga will burn even more calories. These classes require students to hold complex poses for longer periods, offering a more intense workout. But beginning classes that teach you how to perfect a plank pose and other mind/body postures provide significant health and fitness benefits beyond a high-calorie burn.

Plus, learning the basics helps prevent injury when you move on to more advanced classes.

For example, Pilates’ emphasis on movements that strengthen the body’s core helps build muscular endurance and flexibility. In general, mind/body practices help control weight, reduce blood pressure, ease stress, and improve sleep. In one study, people doing yoga lowered both their LDL (bad) cholesterol and their triglycerides more than 12 points during a three-month study.

For those interested in Weight Loss

Yoga: A 50-minute hatha class will burn about 145 calories; a power yoga class, about 250. If your goal is dropping pounds, experts recommend you do a high-intensity activity, like jogging, as well (a 50-minute jog burns about 550 calories). One study found, however, that people who practiced yoga regularly gained less weight during their midlife years than their non-practicing peers.

Pilates: Expect a 50-minute beginner workout to burn about 175 calories; an advanced, between 255 and 375 calories. You would probably need to do a 45- to 60-minute advanced routine at least four days a week to maintain or lose weight.

Bonus Benefits

Yoga: Yoga has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol even after one session. It can also reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flashes by 30 percent, relieves back pain better than traditional exercises, and ease arthritis.

Pilates: It will not lengthen your muscles, as some proponents claim. Muscles can’t grow longer, but the back and abdominal strength you build, along with increased flexibility, can help improve your posture, giving the appearance of a taller, leaner body.

Yoga and Pilates enthusiasts brag about their choice with enthusiasm, boasting about the life-changing physical and mental benefits they receive. Good luck discovering which one is right for you.





Stephanie Spence, Encinitas, CA Stephanie Spence, Encinitas, CA 

With all the recent mainstream media attention focused on the many benefits of yoga, some people show up to class interested but intimidated. With the help of a certified teacher who inspires you to keep coming back to class, those intimidating images of people twisted into shapes that only a circus performer could master go away. What is left is a newfound realistic image of what is possible for your unique body.

Yoga is an onion. You show up with expectations and goals that morph into what is needed for you at that moment in time in your life. What does that mean exactly? Yoga is an ancient system of living. The western physical practice is only one of eight limbs of yoga. The emotional, mental and spiritual benefits are vague concepts that only are achieved after time. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves in this article. Let’s keep it simple.

Most people do show up for some kind of physical goal. That’s great. It’s perfect. If you are clumsy it’s even better. You will see immediate progress because part of the experience and insights you will have is about self-awareness. When you are guided to be present in the moment, usually by focusing on your breath, you learn to be aware of your thoughts, movements and surroundings. That can be a whole new system of how you move through the world.

Here is a sample of some of the many poses that help with flexibility:

  • Seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana) – It is a basic pose that can be challenging for many newcomers. The benefits include: Stretches the hamstrings, spine and lower back. Calms the mind and relieves stress and anxiety. Improves digestion. Relieves symptoms of PMS and menopause. Reduces fatigue. Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries and uterus.
  • Seated twist (Marichyasana III) – We move through life in very repetitive ways. We rarely twist. This pose has great benefits include: Massages abdominal organs, including the liver and kidneys. Stretches the shoulders. Stimulates the brain. Relieves mild backache and hip pain. Strengthens and stretches the spine
  • Single-leg forward bend (Parsvottanasana) – Almost all yoga poses cross over into both flexibility and coordination, with this pose being the poster child of that goal. The benefits include: Calms the brain. Stretches the spine, shoulders and wrists, hips and hamstrings. Strengthens the legs. Stimulates the abdominal organs. Improves posture and sense of balance. Improves digestion.
  • Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Badda Konasana) – Incredibly peaceful, this pose has many benefits including: Stimulates abdominal organs like the ovaries and prostate bland, bladder and kidneys. Stimulates the heart and improves general circulation. Stretches the inners thighs, groins and knees. Helps relieve the symptoms of stress, mild depression, menstruation and menopause.

Flexibility is really the bonus of yoga, as a part of the amazing overall sense of well being of mind and body that comes with yoga practice.

Here is a sample of some of the many standing poses that help with coordination:

  • Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) – This standing pose is empowering. The benefits include: Strengthens and stretches the legs and ankles. Stretches the groins, chest and lungs and shoulders. Stimulates abdominal organs. Increases stamina. Relieves backaches. Therapeutic for carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis and sciatica.
  • Tree Pose (Vrksasana) – Patience brings balance in this beginner pose. The benefits include: Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles and spine. Stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders. Improves sense of balance. Relieves sciatica and reduces flat feet.
  • Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana) – A pose most beginner classes teach. The benefits include: Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles. Stretches the psoas and hips. Relieves sciatica pain. Expands your chest, lungs and shoulders. Develops stamina and endurance in your thighs. Improves your balance, concentration and core awareness.
  • Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) – Although considered beginner, this pose can be quite challenging. The benefits include: Expands your chest and shoulders. Increases mobility of your hip joints. Increases neck mobility. Stretches your spinal muscles. Strengthens and tones muscles of your thighs. Stretches calf muscles, hamstrings and hip musculature. Increases proprioception (the sense of position in space) of feet and ankles.

Coordination is improved by maintaining contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups. Yoga poses require integration of the whole body and draw on your balance skills. Coordination allows muscle groups in the body to relate to one another, and balance allows you to relate to your environment. Improved coordination enhances balance, and balance improves agility.

When you take what you have learned on the mat (whether that be physical or mental) and take it into the rest of your day, you know you are on the right track of living yoga, not just practicing yoga.

Namaste ~



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