Pilates vs Yoga: A Beginners Guide

Pilates vs yoga: both have become popular workouts for those who are looking for a more holistic form of exercise. The practices have some similarities in its philosophy toward overall health, and each has unique strengths and benefits to consider.

History and Philosophy

One of the most common misconceptions about yoga is that it is associated with Hinduism or that it is part of a religion. Yoga is the oldest physical discipline in existence with evidence of its practice going back to about 3000 BC. Yoga means “to join or unite” in Sanskrit, and it is a form of exercise that is based on the belief that the body and breath are connected with the mind. The postures bring stability and relaxation to practitioners, and the overall practice is intended to bring balance and harmony to one’s life.

Hatha yoga is the physical part of the practice – the postures, the breathing techniques and meditation. The movements are slow and controlled, but provide an invigorating workout, ease tense muscles, and improve flexibility of the joints and spine.  Contrary to aerobic exercise, yoga does not aim to raise the heart rate or burn calories. The practice can, however, work specific muscle groups, making them stronger, and provide weight-bearing to sustain bone mass.

Pilates, sometimes called the Pilates Method, is a form of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s.  This method of exercise encourages the use of the mind to control the muscles. The practice emphasizes the balanced development of the body through core (abdominal) strength and flexibility.  Like yoga, it teaches breath awareness and proper alignment and posture.

Like yoga, Pilates is meant to be a complete physical discipline and holistic approach to exercising. It promotes relaxation, coordination and improved posture. However, Pilates focuses more on generating muscle tone and abdominal strength than yoga does.

The Principles

Each of the two practices has a set of principles that it is based upon. Yoga attains a healthy body and mind through:

  • Proper Relaxation
  • Proper Exercise
  • Proper Breathing
  • Proper Diet
  • Positive Thinking and Meditation.

The Pilates Method has six basic principles for the body, mind, and spirit approach:

  • Centering
  • Concentration
  • Control
  • Precision
  • Breath
  • Flow

Specialized Equipment

Yoga does not require much by way of special equipment to begin the practice. Yoga is traditionally practiced barefoot on a mat. The mat is sticky to prevent slipping during standing poses. Additional items that are helpful to beginners would be a yoga brick and yoga strap that can help maintain proper posture during more challenging poses.

Pilates is also done on a mat, but the mat differs slightly from a yoga mat. It is thicker, with more padding and less stickiness. Pilates also has five major pieces of specialized equipment, such as the reformer or the Cadillac, that uses pulleys, springs, and resistance for the movements.

The Workout

The basic order of a yoga session begins with warm-up exercises to condition the body for the postures.  Most classes begin with standing poses and then move to sitting poses and twists.  The practice then moves to the floor for supine and prone poses (on the back and on the front), and then more advanced classes add inverted poses and backbends.  All classes end with finishing poses on the floor that cool down the body and provide some gentle stretching.  The final pose is Savasana, or corpse pose, where you lie quietly on your back for a short period of time.

Instead of performing many repetitions of the same posture, Pilates uses fewer, more precise movements of each exercise.  The workout also consists of a series of calisthenic type movements that condition the body as well as provide more muscle tone and strength.

Which Is for You?

Both yoga and Pilates have both physical and psychological benefits.  For yoga practitioners, the movements are slow and controlled, and the goal is to bring flexibility and strength to the muscle groups. In Pilates, the core abdominal muscles are the focus to bring strength to the spine, and the workout is more aerobic in nature. Both focus on the importance of breath and awareness of the body. And both bring relaxation and stress reduction, plus the endorphins that accompany a great workout.


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