There is a debate that seems never-ending. Which is the best exercise out of Yoga and Pilates? This article will not provide a definitive answer but it is based on personal experiences, so hopefully it will prove informative.

It has been 18 months since my life changed. Overnight I went from successful runner to painful hobbler and soon I was under the surgeon’s knife having my spine sliced open.

The operation was a success – in so far as the acute pain in my legs and back disappeared, but what I have been left with is the residual pain caused by the nerves retraining themselves to work properly. This, I have been told, will be a long process as the nerves are not quick learners, so running at anything quicker than a very slow plod is currently out of the question.


What would speed this up? The common consensus among everyone I spoke to was an activity to strengthen my core. But here consensus ended, and I was soon dragged into the great Yoga versus Pilates debate.

A non-practitioner like me tends to throw Yoga and Pilates into the same category. They are both therapeutic exercise, as opposed to lung-busting cardio activities; they both involve breathing technique; and they both promote self-awareness and body awareness. But, as I discovered, they are very different activities and within both Yoga and Pilates there are different forms of activity, which makes a straightforward comparison between the two disciplines very difficult.

Yoga v pilates -  What is the difference

Firstly, there is the age difference.

Yoga is very much the elder statesman. It originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and has evolved over time. This has led to the different types of Yoga, the main ones being Ashtanga, Bikram, Kripalu and Vineyasa.

It was not until the mid-20th century that Joseph Pilates introduced exercises as a form of rehabilitation. Joseph was an athlete, and his exercise was aimed at curing athletic injuries, but the practice was seized upon by dancers, who began to use Pilates to strengthen their bodies for performance.

A different outlook

While both disciplines focus on a connection between body and mind, Yoga adds a third dimension – that of spirit. meditation creates the perfect situation in which to explore spirituality, so much Yoga practice is devoted to clearing and cleansing the spirit.

Class differences

This is a difficult one to pinpoint. Each class you walk into will be different, so it’s tough to highlight specific distinctions. At a basic level, it comes down to flexibility. Yoga classes tend to be less regimented than Pilates. Postures, sequences and variations can be combined into thousands of routines from one class to the next. The form of the class will be set by the teacher and the style of Yoga you choose to practice. Ashtanga and Bikram has a slightly higher level of structure, and often appeal to athletes who are simply seeking more flexibility rather than a mind/body/spirit connection.

Pilates classes are more regimented, and tend to follow a pattern of movement that works specific body parts, rather than achieving a ‘whole body’ flow. Some Pilates classes will use specialist machines to achieve greater strength and target specific body areas.

Meditation is another element that distinguishes the classes. Not all Yoga classes start and end with a chant, but many do. This brings in focus and dedication at the start of the session and offers appreciation for the benefits of the practice at the end of a class.

Different outcomes

In both practices, you will gain strength and flexibility. Pilates offers a total body workout, but tends to focus on aligning the spine and strengthening the core, whereas in a yoga class balance is key. A Yoga workout will work every muscle in your body equally and each posture is accompanied by a counter-posture to ensure you create balance in your body. While core-strength is definitely an important element in Yoga, it is not the entire focus.

Take a deep breath

Breathing and concentration techniques are important to both Yoga and Pilates practices. However, yoga uses breath work on a very deep level. In energetic flow-based yoga classes such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, the practice is called the ujjayi breath, where yogis breathe in and out through the nose, matching these deepyoga

breaths to the movements and postures. Often in yoga classes, there will be segments dedicated to breath work, called pranayama.

Pilates practices keep it much simpler: you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

A question of choice

I was seeking core strength and simplicity, so I am now a dedicated follower of Pilates. I do three or four sessions a week, and have found it has really helped me function better on a daily basis. From cycling to just standing, I feel more in tune with my core. Someone even told me I looked taller. But, if you are seeking a spiritual practice which helps you manage stress levels then Yoga might be best. A good friend of mine practices Yoga daily, and starts each morning with meditation. She has gone from stressed-out wild-child to serene maturity – but that might just be age and experience!

The best way to find out which activity suits your needs is to try them out.



(pictures: greenovergrey,3x30yoga, ranker)

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