5 Major Differences Between Pilates and Yoga

Posted on March 5, 2024

Alycea Ungaro, visiting Hong Kong from REAL Pilates NYC, breaks it down for us

“What’s the difference between Pilates and yoga?” We get this question a lot!

Once you get to know what Pilates is all about, it’s easy to fall in love with it. However, it’s also common to confuse the system with other mind-body practices and philosophies when you’re not altogether familiar with it.

Both Pilates and yoga follow an order or flow sequence, especially in the case of Pilates Mat and Reformer. These are designed to warm up the body for more complex movements to follow later in the practice. However, there are some key distinctions between the two, and we have Alycea Ungaro of REAL Pilates New York to break it down for us.

So whether you’re a new student or a teacher getting this question on the street, let’s get you some answers here and now!

1. Pilates puts strength before stretch

“Yoga is much more about flexibility and stability, pilates is strength and stability.” — Professor Greg Whyte, former Olympian and leading authority on sports science

While both Pilates and yoga are effective in building flexibility and strength, Pilates puts more emphasis on the latter. Its main goal is to “strengthen the stomach, improve posture, stabilize and elongate the spine and develop balance and overall strength.” (Gaiam)

Pilates is considered a resistance exercise or strength training, meant to improve muscular power and endurance without bulking up. The six key principles of Pilates (concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision) are used to create a leaner, better you from your core muscles out, with the bonus of providing a long and toned body.

2. Pilates has been more recognized for its physical rehabilitation benefits

The origins of Pilates are rooted in healing and rehabilitation, invented in the early 20th Century. It was the brainchild of the German Joseph Pilates, who moved to England in 1912.

When World War I broke out, Pilates interned with other Germans in a hospital on the Isle of Man. There, he invented the first prototypes of his reformer, cadillac and chair equipment, using springs to help bed-bound patients develop their muscles. (The Guardian)

Many athletes and performing artists have adopted Pilates when recovering from a sports or similar injury. It’s not uncommon to combine its exercises with physiotherapy to re-align and rehabilitate from acute and chronic pain.

Our own Flex instructor and keen horse rider Lyndsay Rothwell took up Pilates as a means of rehabilitation after a riding accident. “The functional movement training of Pilates is not only beneficial for rehabilitation, but also helps people understand their bodies better to prevent injury, get fit, and improve overall well-being,” she says.

3. Pilates uses different equipment to yoga

Although Pilates utilizes your body weight on a mat as does yoga, it uses equipment far more complex than your everyday block and strap. Among other pieces of apparatus, the most well-known are:

The widely used Reformer is a carefully crafted workout apparatus that looks like a bed with a stable base, foot bar, various attachment areas, straps, and springs.

The Pilates Tower and Cadillac, a vertical unit that uses a variety of attachments – a roll-back bar, arm springs, leg springs and a push-through bar to provide a full-body workout.

The Wunda Chair – also known as the Low Chair or Pilates Chair. One of Pilates’ most challenging workouts, it consists of a seat and a spring-loaded pedal. Several spring attachments allow for varying levels of resistance.

4. Pilates is secular, not spiritual

In yoga, you might find yourself in a class with a lot of mantra chanting, OM-ing and meditating. That’s because Yoga is a sacred tradition that began in India over 5,000 years ago. Its purpose was to connect the individual consciousness to the universal.(Aaptiv)

The same is not true for Pilates, which – although also aiming to focus the mind – definitely has no pretensions of higher consciousness and ending suffering in the world through the compassion gained through practice. Ending personal physical suffering, however, is another story…

5. Yoga is structured on complex postures called “Asanas”

Yoga is structured around complex postures called “Asanas”, in addition to pranayama (breathing exercises), dhyana (meditation), yamas (social conduct), niyamas (self-observances), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), and samadhi (bliss). (VeryWellFit)

The words are from an ancient language called Sanskrit, no longer spoken today in India except for use by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies. Pilates, on the other hand, organizes itself around six key principles: concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision.

We hope this cleared up some confusion about how Pilates compares to yoga, and that you feel inspired to see what it’s all about!

Flex Fitness Studio Hong Kong hosted Alycea Ungaro and The REAL Pilates Teacher Training Program – the first FULL comprehensive Classical Pilates training offered in the city last October, please click here for more information.

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