What’s the difference between yoga and Pilates?

Physical Distinctions of Yoga and Pilates

Many gym-goers mistake the typically Zen-like nature of yoga and Pilates for being boring and physically ineffective, which couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, experts swear by the disciplines for their effectiveness at improving core strength and flexibility, both of which are incredibly important to success in any type of athletic pursuit. "You can be as strong as a bull, but if you don't have flexibility to move, that strength does you no good," says Jamie Hunt, a registered yoga instructor in the Atlanta area.

The methods Pilates and yoga use to help people achieve physical success are different in form and function. First, yoga requires no equipment other than a floor mat, although beginners can opt to use props like flexibility-enhancing yoga straps, or yoga bolsters, which are basically pillows that provide support when doing poses [source: Romine]. Pilates is also done on a floor mat, but it sometimes incorporates resistance bands and even sophisticated exercise machinery, like reformers to provide more support [source: Johnson].

Poses are very important to both disciplines, but Pilates practitioners hold them for three seconds max, while yoga practitioners might hold them for much longer periods. Yoga also tends to include more standing poses than Pilates, which is mostly done on the floor [source: Siler]. Although both regimens are touted for their full-body workout capabilities, they tend to go about it in different ways. Pilates is known for its particular focus on core and spine strength, whereas yoga strives to work every muscle equally [source: Eisler]. "Yoga is from the tips of the toes to the top of the head," Hunt explains.

Breathing is also important for both disciplines, but with Pilates, you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, while keeping your stomach contracted. In Yoga, you breathe in and out through your nose, while expanding your abdomen (a process called belly breathing). The reason for the difference is that breathing in Pilates is preparation for active movement, while in yoga it's a way to calm you down for mediation [source: Hessel]. And the meditative aspect might be the biggest difference between the two regimens.