Pilates vs Yoga

You are all ready; you have a pair of gorgeous printed tights, a coffee in hand and your facebook post has been inundated with pictures of you in your active wear. But you are not quite sure where to start. Should you do Yoga, Pilates or both? It’s a tough decision and one very few know the answer too.  I'm here to help clear up the confusion and explore the major differences, as well as explain where it all began for each practice.

Pilates and Yoga often get categorised under the same definition, however there are distinctive differences between the two. The first being that Yoga originated in India over 5,000 years ago and has evolved over the years as it spread throughout the world and different cultures. Many different yoga schools have created their own style, you may have heard of Vinyasa flow, Bikrham and Laughter yoga, the list goes on and on.

Pilates is a much newer form of practice which began in the early 1900's by an athlete named Joseph Pilates. He was a keen yoga enthusiast who invented Pilates to help with strengthening exercises and recovery of soldiers returning from war. Pilates has boomed in popularity over time and you will now see your elite AFL players getting involved in this new form of exercises.

Mind and Body Connection

Yoga and Pilates are both mindfulness-based practices. Pilates focuses on creating an understanding that the mind and body is connected, and how this can help in everyday life. Pilates focuses on well-being for the body and how it can help in everyday, functional life. It works on strengthening your muscles, improving posture, spinal alignment/elongation, core control and breathing. It is an educative form of practice the helps to improve your self awareness.

Yoga on the other hand explores spirituality and self-actualisation through focusing on the mind-body-spirit connection.  Yoga explores spirituality using breath as a method and a means to heal your body from illness. Sometimes certain yoga classes will include chanting or meditation to connect the breath with the body.

Inhale and Exhale

Don’t worry, you’ll be breathing in both Yoga and Pilates. However,  there is a different focus with your breath pattern for each practice. Your yoga instructor will ask you to focus your breathing in your belly. It becomes rhythmic and can be meditative.  Yoga uses breath work on a very deep level, often with whole segments of a class dedicated to the practice of breathing called Pranayama. Yoga emphasises breathing in and out through the nose and matching breath to different postures. 

In Pilates your breathing pattern will be focused on breathing deeply to compliment and aid with movements. It will teach you to control your breathing throughout movement and exercise, using the activation of your respiratory muscles to engage your core. Each exercise will focus on activating your “powerhouse” or your core and abdominal muscles, and breathing into your back or ribs.




Yoga focuses on flexibility, flow of movement and large muscles groups, while using a mat and props like blocks and straps.  Yoga will work every muscle in your body, with each posture being followed by a counter posture to create balance and harmony inside. The focus is on being present while doing a workout, rather than just doing a workout. It offers balance, endurance, strength, spirituality, and some really physical movement. Classes can range from gentle and nourishing to challenging and sweaty. With all the variety, there is always a class and a style for everyone. If you like to move and you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person, yoga might just be your ticket.

Pilates classes focus on strength, muscle toning, body control, and flexibility, with the main emphasis being core strength. Pilates is a disciplined practice that needs to be done on a regular basis to provide benefit. If you like a more structured workout without the cardio component, chanting, OMing, or complex postures, this could be the workout for you. Pilates is a total body workout with a focus on spinal alignment and core stability. It will often be prescribed to aid in injury rehabilitation as it works on strengthening the deep core muscles which protect the lower back.

So if you have an injury its best to rehab and strengthen the area with Pilates prior to an intense full body workout in yoga.  Just remember always check with your health practitioner before starting any new exercise routine and inform your instructor of any pre-exisiting injuries.

The Perfect Combo

The question remains—should you practice yoga or Pilates? Why choose a practice when you can have the benefit of both? I incorporate Pilates into my daily routine; but I enjoy the flexibility, freedom, and challenge of yoga. If you are still unsure, give both a try. This is the only way to know which practice better suits you and which one you will enjoy more.

Both Pilates and yoga offer stress-relief, flexibility, strength, control, and endurance. The biggest difference between the two is the emphasis on the spiritual component in classes. Outside of Yoga-laties, most Pilates classes don’t offer an obvious spiritual experience, however, Pilates may be a great starting point or compliment for a yoga practice. The slower pace of a Pilates class can be meditative and stress relieving.

If you need to manage stress, improve your ability to relax and want to explore spirituality then Yoga is the one for you. If you need to improve your posture and strengthen your core then Pilates is a better fit. Both will give you a workout and improve your body awareness.  Consider your fitness priorities and build your practice from there. If you’re in great shape and want to burn extra calories and work on endurance, a Hatha, Vinyasa, or Anusara yoga class would be ideal. If you’re a runner and need to fine-tune your core strength, then Pilates may be the best choice. The main thing is that you want to pick a practice that you enjoy and that you can do on a regular basis.