Do you know the difference between Yoga and Pilates? One is a holistic discipline that originates 5000 years ago from India. While the other is a fitness system devised in the 1920s by a German physical trainer!

While both practices are known for their numerous benefits such as stress relief, improved flexibility, strength and control. They are fundamentally very different from each other from the movements to the intentions of the practice.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the difference between Yoga and Pilates with Sarah!


A little background about Yoga

Yoga is a mind and body practice with a 5,000-year history in ancient Indian philosophy.

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj, means to bind, and is interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. It is believed that the practice of Yoga has been collated into the Yoga Sutra by the Indian sage Patanjali an estimated 2,000 years ago. This Sutra consists of a collection of 195 statements which serves as a philosophical guide for the Yoga practice today.

Not only so, but the Sutra also outlines the eight limbs of Yoga which are Yamas (Restraints), Niyamas (Observations), Asanas (Postures), Pranayama (Breathing), Pratyahara (Withdrawal of senses), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyani (Meditation), Samadhi (Absorption).

Through exploring these eight limbs of Yoga, we begin to refine our behaviour in the outer world and focus inwards until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment). Today, most people practising yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for Pranayama and Meditation.

A little background about Pilates

Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, whom the exercise was named after. Pilates called his method “Contrology” and used developed his fitness system for the purpose of rehabilitation!

Some of the first people treated by Pilates were soldiers returning from war and dancers (Martha Graham and George Balanchine) who are looking to strengthen and rehabilitate. Since the development of Pilates, the basic principles that Joseph Pilates set down have been preserved, and remain true to its origins with some modifications.

The idea behind Pilates is to gain flexibility, strength and body awareness without building bulk. It is considered a resistance exercise, even though, as a beginner, you may experience an increased heart rate. Other than performing Pilates exercises on the machines such as the reformer, Pilates can be performed on the mat as well!

The main goal of this exercise is to strengthen the core, improve posture, stabilize and elongate the spine and develop balance and overall strength! In Pilates, we have six key principles which are: concentration, control, centring, breathing, flow and precision. When these key principles are used in conjunction with the mindset that you are creating a leaner, better you from your core muscles out.

yoga vs pilates - differences

What are the differences between Yoga and Pilates?


One key difference which these 2 exercises differ is in the way we breathe throughout the exercises.

In Pilates, we go into Lateral Breathing as we execute the movement. Lateral breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. What this means is that as you inhale through your nose, you bring your breath deep into the ribcage and expand it. As you exhale, close your ribcage and exhale through your mouth.

In Yoga, we don’t inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Instead, Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. There are different type of breathing for Yoga. One type of breathing that is used in Yoga is Ujjayi breathing also known as Ocean Breathing. As you inhale through your nose, you bring the breath into your lungs and contract a little bit at your throat to create the ocean sound. What this does is that it calms your mind and warms up your body. Then, you exhale through your nose.


Repetitive vs Static Hold

As you know Pilates is known as the art of Contrology where you move through repetitive motions. We can demonstrate the action of repetitive motions through the Chest lift. As you inhale, exhale and come up into the chest lift and peel your shoulder blades off. Inhale and go down, and exhale and move up. As you are doing this, you are using the engagement in your core to lift instead of using your neck and shoulders to pull up your body. As you move through the repetitive motions, you will start to feel the strengthening and endurance building up.

When we are talking about traditional yoga like Hatha Yoga, most of the time they are static holds and you can be holding the pose for up to 5 to 8 counts. Using the Downward dog as a demonstration, you can observe the stretching in your hamstrings, strengthening of your shoulders and the lengthening of your spine as you push your hips up towards the ceiling. So you can see that the Downward dog, is an entire body workout but you are in a static position.


Core Focus vs Holistic

Joseph Pilates came up with this set of movements and design it like a fitness system that works on strengthening and developing core strength. A lot of the movement targets the core but also works on various parts of the body like your glutes, thighs and arms. But essentially as you are working a different part of the body, you are still working on the core too.

As compared to Yoga, which is more holistic. Yoga works on your strength and flexibility. Just like how a simple movement like a downward dog can target multiple parts of the body while providing you with deep relaxation.


Move with intention vs Mind & Body Union

When you are doing a Pilates workout, you want to move with intention. You move through the poses knowing that this particular workout will work on a specific part of your body be it your core, glutes, thighs or shoulder stability. There is a lot of focus and control needed, and you do not want to be moving with momentum, if you do so you are not engaging and strengthening the right muscle group and you may end up with an injury.

Yoga is more holistic in terms of building on your mind and your entire body. There are various types of yoga out there from Yin Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga to Yoga Nidra. Not only do they work on your body and flexibility, but they also focus on bringing the mind to a balance guiding you into a state of calm.


What are the similarities between Yoga and Pilates?

  1. They are both a good form of workout in terms of building up your strength and endurance.
  2. Yoga and Pilates are both great for enhancing your mobility.
  3. When performing both exercises, your state of mind needs to be focused! You do not want to be moving your body without control and using momentum.
  4. For both Yoga and Pilates, we are always looking at improving your state of wellbeing as a whole.
  5. Both are good for injury prevention as it works on balancing the muscles. A lot of time injury happens due to muscle imbalance. Both groups of exercises work on stability, improving your muscle balance, building body awareness. Be it practising Yoga or Pilates, you will start to slowly realise which side of your body is stronger/weaker and you start to have better body awareness.
  6. In Pilates, we have the Reformer Pilates where you can look into if you are coming out of an injury. While there are no machines to help in Yoga, there is always Yoga Therapy to help in injuries as well.



Debunking Your Myths about Yoga & Pilates!

Yoga is a Religion

Because of its ancient Indian roots, Yoga often gets misunderstood as a religion.

Yoga is a way of living, and it has nothing to do with religion. It is a holistic scientific approach to living life fully which transforms the whole individual and has no strings attached to any religion.

Yoga is not about outer worship; it is about inner exploration.


Yoga is about Asanas and Impossible Twisting Postures

When we talk about Yoga, what most people think about are just asanas. In Yoga, the point is to start your journey at the gross level, which is through the asanas. However, the actual goal is to move in towards your inner self. Asanas are just one aspect of this holistic system and Yoga takes care of physical, mental, and emotional aspects of individuals who practice it.


You Have to Already Be Fit and Flexible to Do Pilates

No, you do not have to be! While staying flexible and fit is important for healthy movement, these are often outcomes that come with regular practice.

There are many levels of Pilates practice from beginners, advanced to intermediate. There are also modifications you can do to perform these exercises. Through regular practice, you will learn to develop correct movement patterns for everyday activities, which can reduce your risk of injury. Come in with an open mind and just listen to your body as you execute the movement.


Yoga and Pilates are Just for Women

Of course not. Nowadays, there is actually a good mix of women and men in the class. There are many guys coming for classes looking to strengthen their posture and alignment and to prevent injury as well.


Pilates is unsuitable for me if I have an injury

It depends on what type of injury you have. Pilates exercises are corrective and can be used as Rehab. Going for Reformer Pilates will be more suitable for those with an injury.

If you are coming to a mat pilates class with an injury, there are a lot of free movement that is being executed in class which is may not be suitable for you.

Most importantly, always get clearance from your doctor before proceeding with any workout.


Pilates is all about building core strength only

It is not a myth entirely. The essence of a lot of Pilates workout requires you to engage your core. Even if you are focusing on your legs and arms, you want to remember to keep your core engage.

This is because when the core is disengaged, you may start to arch your back a bit more or start to flare your ribcage. It is also important to note that core isn’t just the front of the body we are looking at the entire Transverse Abdominal Muscles which wraps from the front to your back.


Pilates requires special equipment

If we are talking about Reformer Pilates, you need to go to a studio and use a reformer machine. Nowadays, Mat Pilates is getting popular so no machines are required. In fact, Pilates was originally developed on the mat, and the machines came later to complement and aid the mat work.


You must have great balance & coordination to do Pilates

You don’t have to when you first begin. This is because we will work on helping you balance out your muscles throughout your Pilates workout. But you don’t have to have them when you come for the classes. You build them up and progress according to your fitness level and body awareness.


Commonly Asked Questions

Do these two forms of exercise contradicts with each other? 

Yoga and Pilates don’t have to be a contradicting practice. It can be complementary. Go to each workout knowing what you are trying to work on and going in with the right mindset. It is important to be accepting and respectful for the different kinds of practices you are going for.


How to choose which exercise suits for me?

Both Yoga and Pilates are complementary exercises and both can be good for you. There is no one exercise that fits everyone. Go and experience the class and decide which one you like. Some of you may even like both and you may want to suit both into your exercise regime.



1. Have any questions regarding these 2 practices? 

2. Any other practices you would like us to breakdown?

3. Want more comparison videos like this?

Let us know in the comment section down below!



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