chaturanga pose, yoga, pilates

Pilates vs. Yoga – What’s the Difference and Which One Is For You?

I personally love Pilates and practice it every day because I think it is the perfect marriage of increasing your flexibility and developing beastly core strength. My improved core, stability, and stamina is thanks to Pilates. Yoga is great as well, and it has a lot of similarities with Pilates, but there are some core differentiators, and this blog post is dedicated to explaining the difference between the two so that you can decide which one is a better fit for you.

If you wanted to get into either Pilates or Yoga, an important place to start is figuring out what the differences are between the two and what the benefits of each are, right? Both are great forms of exercise and when paired with more cardio-intensive workouts, they will help you towards that fitness goal you’re trying to reach.

Pilates

Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 1920s created what was known as “Contrology,” or the beginnings of what we know now as Pilates. The foundation of Contrology focuses on holistic mind/body awareness and through proper repetition of controlled movements and breathing, you can awaken of thousands of dormant muscles in your body. The end result of practicing pilates is improved strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and increased breathing capacity and organ function.

Pilates emanates from the use of your core. What exactly is your core anyway? Since your spine is not naturally stable, your core is the powerhouse of your body, acting as a stabilizer and balancer and is where your strength comes from. Deadlifts? Squats? Pushups? Bending down and picking up the remote? All those activities involve using your core. People think it’s only the abs, but your core actually includes 29 muscles. I won’t get into their technical names because no one knows, for example, what the Longissimus thoracis is (but for your information, it is one of the most integral muscles of the back that runs up your spine). For a general definition, if you were to take a tape measure and wrap it around your waist, everything it touches is your core—your abdominals, obliques, lower back. Pretty expansive, right? That’s why developing a strong core will give that coordination and stability.

There are six core principles of Pilates.

  1. Control – aka “Contrology.” Joseph Pilates believed that every Pilates exercise required complete control of your body by your mind—it’s truly a test of mind over matter. I can’t tell you how many times during a Pilates-stance double leg lift that I wanted to give up because it felt like my abdominals were going to tear open from so many strenuous repetitions. (And I did. But that was only for the first two months. Then I felt myself getting stronger and stronger and whoo boy, Imma tell you right now that that was a good feeling.)
  2. Breathing – many people tend to hold their breath or take shallow ones while exercising. Stop. Always breathe deeply; inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Proper breathing improves blood circulation, makes your abs work harder, and makes you calmer. It also increases flexibility; it is easier to deepen your stretches while exhaling a focused breath through your mouth.
  3. Concentration – be present during your workout! Thinking about what you’re going to do this weekend or what you’ll make for breakfast tomorrow only takes away from the effectiveness of the workout—and then it’s like all those leg lifts or ab holds were for nothin’. Concentration on the Pilates moves will improve your form, which will, in the long run, give you that toned, lean look you’re going for.
  4. Flow – focusing on the smoothness and fluidity of motions during and between Pilates moves will ensure that your muscles are always working, and that’s what you want. (I say this now while sitting comfortably on a couch, but graceful movements get infinitely harder to accomplish when sweat is dripping into my eyes and my muscles are twitching from overuse and all I want is a deep tissue massage!)
  5. Centering – all your body’s movements stem from your powerhouse, your core. Making sure to be centered through proper form and alignment is how you strengthen and condition your core.
  6. Precision – as Joseph Pilates used to say, “Honor every movement.” Complete every exercise with the intention of perfecting its execution. But to be completely honest, that is a work in progress for me. Sometimes I struggle like a turtle flipped on its back. Tiredly flailing and pretty pathetic.

Conclusion

Pilates exercises are a lot more intense and really focus on building a very strong core—great if you want a firmer tummy. From personal observation and experience, Pilates has also helped me tone up my arms, shoulders, abdominals, obliques, thighs, and I got that nice defined line down my back for those of you who want that too. I find that my lower back is stronger and I am able to sit up straighter and taller.


A little side promotion for Pilates: Around four months ago, I could only hold a 1m 30s plank. Now I can do 3m 42s. (Why do I know the exact time? Because I hold the plank for as long as the song “Touchin, Lovin” plays. I just—don’t ask.)


My absolute favorite fitness guru who got me started on Pilates is Cassey Ho, founder of Blogilates, an all-inclusive website that has great workout calendars, recipes, and a community of fitness lovers. Check her out! Here’s also a great list of Pilates exercises for those of you who want to get started! I couldn’t recommend Pilates enough—but then again, I’m biased. :P

Yoga

No one is sure when exactly Yoga was created, but its practices date back to at least 3000 B.C. in the ancient Indus Valley. An old-timer to be sure. The word Yoga means “to join” or “to yoke together,” which makes a whole lot of sense since Yoga emphasizes the union of mind, body, and spirit. Yoga was brought to the Western hemisphere in the 19th century where it began as a movement for health and vegetarianism and really kicked up in the 1960s when the youth grew interested in anything Eastern. Since Yoga has been refined through thousands of years and just as many teachers and students, there are a lot of practices and ways to study Yoga; it gets complicated trying to sort it all out—(trust me, this is coming from a well-intentioned writer trying to simplify it all out in a short-ish post).

There are the Eight Limbs of Yoga that comprise of an incredibly long list with sub-lists that, quite frankly, would be more confusing than helpful in this post. So you get a link <–. Thanks to Swarmi Sivananda, though, you get a nice consolidated list of five core principles that make up the most important points of Yoga.

The Five Core Principles of Yoga.

  1. Asanas (aka Yoga poses) – Yoga Asanas are the actual Yoga poses. So, for example, when you see something doing a Chaturanga or Tree pose or Crow pose, it is an Asana. Asanas are designed to help master your body and enhance its functions, and is done by subjecting your body to bends, twists, stretches, inversions, and all kinds of strains. Basically, Asana is the proper term for “Yoga poses.”
  2. Pranayama (aka proper breathing) – Like Pilates, Yoga also focuses deeply on your breath. Pranayama comes from the combination of two Sanskrit words. “Prana” means fundamental life force, and “yama” means to control, so Pranayama is basically the act of controlling your life’s force, your breath. There are many different types of Pranayamas (typical), but a familiar type that most people associate with Yoga is deep breathing, which can calm you down and lower your blood pressure. Good for the high-strung people of the world.
  3. Saucha (aka physical, mental, and spiritual purity) – Sure, sounds simple enough. So in addition to cleansing your body physically (i.e. nurturing your body with healthy foods), Saucha also entails cleansing yourself of impure thoughts and emotions like hatred, greed, and pride.
  4. Dhyana (aka positive thinking and meditation) – Dhyana involves complete meditation and absorption. An example of this is if you’ve ever been entirely focused on reading a superb book or studying for an exam, (the former more relevant to me than the latter), and you find that someone has been calling you for the past five minutes but you heard nothing or you suddenly realized a whole day has whizzed by—this intense state of singular focus is Dhyana. But, when you don’t have a book or an exam to study for, quieting your mind of all thoughts and focusing on nothing and yet everything at once is extremely hard to do. And that is why Yoga is a process.
  5. Savasana (aka complete relaxation aka Corpse Pose) – Savasana is more a pose than a principle. It means, quite literally, Corpse Pose. It involves you laying on your back with your palms up. The purpose of Savasana is to quiet your mind and allow peace to enter the normally chaotic pace of modern life. It decreases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and anxiety.

Conclusion

Yoga is not just a fitness fad. If you’re going to take it seriously, it requires devotion and dedication and a willingness to slow down the pace you’re used to going. Yoga is the combination of your mind, body, spirit, and was historically used for meditative purposes, but most modern Western classes focus purely on its physical involvement, the Asanas. Of course, when performed correctly, Yoga does tone your entire body, as Yoga moves involve all of your muscles.

Tara Stiles is one of my favorite yogis, not only because she was the first yogi I discovered, but because she also has different kinds of Yoga for different kinds of situations—she has a hotel Yoga series, for crying out loud.

The Decision – Similarities

  • Both Pilates and Yoga are mat exercises that tone and condition your body using body weight and natural resistance.
  • Both Pilates and Yoga are mind/body exercises that focus on a deeper connection between your body and mind.
  • Both Pilates and Yoga are breathing-oriented that result in improved blood circulation.

…And Differences

  • Yoga focuses more on increasing strength and flexibility of the spine and limbs while Pilates focuses on building your core strength first, with flexibility coming in second.
  • In Pilates, every movement stems from your core and extends through the limbs while in Yoga, the concentration is first on your breath, and then on deepening your core.
  • Yoga emphasizes staying connected to your breath more while Pilates focuses on the precision of your movements, and then coordinating those movements with your breathing.
    • Yoga has more breathing patterns than Pilates. In Pilates, you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth; but, as noted with Pranayama, there are multiple techniques to breathing in Yoga.
  • Pilates involves a lot more laying down on the mat and using your core to power through the exercises while Yoga involves more standing poses that use gravity as the resisting force.

There you have it! The similarities and differences between Pilates and Yoga. Hopefully by now, you have a better understanding of which exercise is more suited for you. I love my Pilates, but I eventually want to immerse myself in Yoga, too. For now, though, the intricacies of mind and spirit in Yoga escape me.

Which do you guys like better? Or what exercise do you think you’ll get in to?

I’d love to know, and a conversation from enthusiasts is always welcome here. :)

Happy (chilly) Sunday!

-Shirley