The Unique Benefits of Each Gentle Workout

Both use a mat. Both focus on stretching. Both involve deep breathing. So really, how do you decide between yoga and Pilates? At first glance, the two practices may seem almost identical, but instructors say they are decidedly different and each has its own set of benefits.

The biggest difference, of course, is in the history of each fitness modality. Yoga started in India 5000 years ago as a personal development practice, according to certified yoga instructor Nira Shah, LMHC, while Pilates was first created in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates as a form of physical therapy that treated pain and injury. There is also a spiritual element that sets yoga apart. “Yoga has strong philosophical roots, which are reflected in ancient texts but not always in the yoga sessions themselves,” says Shah. The practice is known to promote a holistic lifestyle on and off the mat, and Pilates is more focused on mobilizing the body.

Despite its spiritual foundation, modifications have been added to many westernized yoga classes to meet exercise and fitness goals (think sculpt yoga and hot yoga, for example). And this is where the line between yoga and Pilates begins to blur. “Pilates and yoga have many variations and can be similar,” says Shah. “Both incorporate controlled breathing and may include more cardio-focus.” Read on to know all the differences between yoga and Pilates that will help you decide how to sweat.

Yoga versus. Pilates

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Basically, Shah says yoga is meant to align the mind, body, and spirit using physical postures and controlled, mindful breathing. Typically, a yoga class will begin by centering you on a mat before moving through a series of postures or asanas. The goal is to adapt your breathing to your movement. Basic poses include the downward dog pose and the child pose, which you’ll bend and twist before ending with a savasana meditation. (This is when you lie on your back and listen to soothing music.)

A Pilates class will also focus on specific movements and controlled breathing, usually with the goal of strengthening and aligning the body and improving flexibility, says the Pilates instructor. Eloise Skinner. While Pilates and Yoga encourage you to focus on how your body feels so that you stay present in the moment, Pilates focuses more on spinal and pelvic alignment as well as major muscle groups like your glutes and core, Skinner explains. . And sometimes it incorporates equipment that you won’t find in a yoga session. “Classes tend to incorporate mat exercises as well as stretching, but it’s also possible to use Pilates equipment, like a bed reformer or other accessories,” she tells Bustle.

Another difference, according to Vanessa Johnson, CNPT, nationally certified Pilates teacher and director of education for Pilates Clubis that a Pilates workout keeps you in constant motion, while some variations of yoga require you to hold a pose for a period of time. “Pilates places a strong emphasis on building core and spine strength and stability, so you’ll be performing a lot of exercises with that in mind whether you’re doing it on the reformer or on a mat,” explains she does. Some must-have Pilates moves include swimmers, mermaids, bridges, twists, and side turns, which can look a lot like yoga poses.

The benefits of yoga

When you attend a yoga class or watch a yoga video, you can expect to feel a little less stressed at the end. “Mentally, yoga can induce a state of calm and mindful by the continual return to the breath and its sensations, ”says Shah. “[It can even] to help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, especially if you stick to continuous practice.

Although it can be slow and gentle, yoga will still be a good workout. “The physical practice of yoga can provide stretching, build muscle, and increase flexibility,” Shah explains. “From a fitness standpoint, yoga can have a high or low impact, depending on the style and pace of the class. ”

What you get from yoga really depends on your goals as well as what type of yoga you try, says. Kelly Clifton Turner, yoga teacher and director of education for YogaSix. “If you’re looking to gain strength and flexibility, try a heated vinyasa or power yoga studio, or another style like Ashtanga,” she tells Bustle. “If you’re looking to stretch, relax, or have an active recovery day, explore restorative yoga, yin, or even a slow-flow type class.” Then there are sculpt yoga classes, which add resistance training and sometimes even weight lifting to your flow.

The benefits of Pilates

Pilates is not necessarily a spiritual practice, but it certainly has mental health benefits. “On a mental level, the emphasis on the mind-body connection creates a better sense of awareness and control“says Skinner. Physically, you can also expect to see significant gains in your abs and other muscle groups.” Pilates movements target specific muscle groups and are repeated while your breathing is controlled to help to maintain endurance during repetitions, ”adds Shah.

After a few classes, you can expect to feel stronger, more aligned, and more flexible. Remember, Pilates was designed with physical therapy in mind – so it’s meant to help your body move in the most efficient way possible, says Johnson. It’s also a great way for anyone with an injury or joint problem to exercise without putting extra strain on their body.

The general consensus? Yoga and Pilates both offer a gentle way to exercise your muscles, focus on your breathing, and build strength – with nothing more than a mat.

Referenced studies:

de Manincor M, Bensoussan A, Smith CA, Barr K, Schweickle M, Donoghoe LL, Bourchier S, Fahey P. Individualized Yoga to Reduce Depression and Anxiety and Improve Well-Being: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Depress anxiety. September 2016; 33 (9): 816-28. doi: 10.1002 / da.22502. Published online as of March 31, 2016. PMID: 27030303.

Fleming KM, MP for Herring. The Effects of Pilates on Mental Health Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. Complete Ther Med. Apr 2018; 37: 80-95. doi: 10.1016 / j.ctim.2018.02.003. Published online February 13, 2018. PMID: 29609943.

Gothe, NP, Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E., & Damoiseaux, JS (2019). Effects of Yoga on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature. Brain plasticity (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), 5(1), 105-122.

Tolnai N, Szabó Z, Köteles F, Szabo A. Physical and Psychological Benefits of Weekly Pilates Exercises in Sedentary Young Women: A 10-Week Longitudinal Study. Physiol Behav. September 1, 2016; 163: 211-218. doi: 10.1016 / j.physbeh.2016.05.025. Published online May 16, 2016. PMID: 27195456.


Nira Shah, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor and certified yoga instructor

Eloise Skinner, qualified Pilates instructor

Kelly Clifton Turner, ERYT 500yoga teacher

Vanessa Johnson, CNPT, Pilates teacher

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