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Yoga vs Pilates

See how these two stack up against each other

These days, you can scarcely turn on the TV or open a celeb-based magazine without hearing your favorite stars tout the role of yoga or Pilates in shaping their to-die-for bodies. These most beautiful people seem to know exactly which discipline best tones their physique. Which regimen should you adopt? According to expert trainers, your choice between yoga and Pilates depends on your goals. Take a moment to reflect on your body and mind goals while we give you a side by side comparison of two hot workouts.


Yoga's 5,000 year-old Eastern-based philosophy targets inner peace as the primary focus of its eight elements; it is a journey of self-discovery. The relaxation and meditation central to yoga apply not just to studio workouts, but they envelope everyday life. Even the term "students" implies that yoga teaches a new way of being and interacting. More so than Pilates, yoga is a lifestyle, not just an exercise.

Pilates, also called "Controlology", utilizes mental prowess differently. Rather than deep meditation, the Pilates mind works to acutely control muscle movement. "Ideally, our muscles should obey our will. Reasonably, our will should not be dominated by the reflex actions of our muscles." ~ Joseph H. Pilates


Yoga involves minimal motion. Yoga students hold static, or still, poses for a long period, counted by a set number of breaths instead of seconds. With each breath, the student settles deeper into the pose as their muscles relax. These moves require and increase flexibility, especially in the hips and shoulders.

Pilates takes two forms: floor-based and machine-based. Floor based Pilates uses a mat, along with elastic bands and the Pilates "magic circle" (exercise ring) to build strength through resistance. The machine-based version uses the Cadillac and Reformer pulley machines for weight and resistance. Unlike yoga, both types of Pilates involve sets and reps, more like a weight-lifting routine. You remain in motion for the majority of a Pilates session.

Physical Benefits

Yoga keeps your body supple, pliable, and flexible. Yoga poses also recruit different muscle groups to work together, reinforcing the movements of every-day life. This "team work" effect corrects and prevents muscle imbalance common to athletes and weight lifters. Pinpointing any imbalance, the yoga poses force weak muscles to work harder and force tight muscles to stretch. Still more benefits? Absolutely. The poses in yoga work to optimize the deep breathing meditation. Many poses teach students to open their chest and lung cavity, increasing the amount of oxygen they receive with each breath. More oxygen means better circulation and heart health, and increased circulation.

Pilates combines flexibility and strength in every move, with particular focus on the core muscles. These deep muscles wrap your abdomen and lower back and provide support to every movement of your body. Strength in these muscles enhances every activity, from vacuuming to playing tennis to good posture (your mother would be so proud). Core strength plays special importance in sports and exercise, powering and propelling you through every movement with an effortless appearance.

Ultimate Goal

Yoga encourages introspection, inner peace, and self-reflection. After just one yoga session, you will feel calmer, refreshed, and more open. Studies actually document stress reduction as a yoga benefit. Flexibility and range of motion fall in at a close second. With each progressing class, the goal is to move deeper into each pose, hold them for more breaths, and learn more challenging poses.

Pilates is corrective in nature. Joseph Pilates founded this exercise in the early 1900s to improve his own strength and then to help wounded World War I soldiers recuperate. Modern physical therapy incorporates Pilates-based movement for recovery. The goal with Pilates, whether you attend rehab or gym-based classes, is to realign natural spinal curvature, improve flexibility and muscle tone, and balance muscle strength.

Gear Up

Yoga equipment includes a thin, sticky mat, support blocks (bamboo or foam), straps (when your flexibility isn't quite there for a particular move), stretchy and form-fitting clothing, and your bare feet.

Pilates equipment includes a thick exercise mat (at least ½ inch thick), exercise band (wide yet thin ribbon bands are preferred to tubing), a Pilates "Magic Circle" (a flexible ring made to add resistance), and stretchy and form-fitting clothing.

Bottom Line

Experiment with both yoga and Pilates at least five times before deciding which gives you the best burn. If you want to shed pounds and body fat, keep in mind that this requires cardiovascular exercise. Coupling cardio exercises such as running or swimming with yoga and/or Pilates will leave you long and lean.

If both disciplines pique your interest, then do both! After all, Joseph Pilates used yoga as his foundation when creating "Controlology". Yoga and Pilates compliment each other for fantastic results. Just don't forget the key weight-loss ingredient: cardio.

  • For yoga: Choose a registered yoga teacher (RYT) registered with the Yoga Alliance. This registration ensures at least 200 hours of yoga instruction training.
  • For Pilates: Look for an instructor certified by STOTT Pilates or the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA).

Who Does What?

Here are some A-list supporters of each discipline.

  • Yoga: Madonna (with cycling), Ricky Martin, Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow (with running), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA star), Jerry Seinfeld, Cameron Diaz, Nicholas Cage, and Sting, just to name a few.
  • Pilates: Jennifer Aniston, Uma Thurman, Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron, Rod Stewart, Carrie-Ann Moss (The Matrix), Hugh Grant, Courtney Cox, Cindy Crawford, Jamie Lee Curtis, the Cleveland Indians (MLB), and the San Francisco 49ers (NFL).

"Basketball is an endurance sport, and you have to learn to control your breath, that's the essence of yoga, too. So I consciously began to us yoga techniques in my practice and playing. Americans are very good at cardiovascular endurance and strength, but flexibility is the missing element. This is why a lot of athletes get injured. I think that doing yoga really helped reduce the number and severity of the injuries I suffered during my career. As preventive medicine, it's unequaled. My friends and teammates think I made a deal with the devil. But it was yoga that made my training complete. There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA Hall of Famer)
Article Reviewed: August 8, 2012
Copyright © 2015 Healthy Magazine

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