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Pilates vs. Yoga: What’s the Difference?


Four women doing yoga illustrates the differences in Pilates vs. yoga | Spine & Sport PT | Rancho Santa Margarita, CA ClinicWhen we tell people we incorporate Pilates into our physical therapy sessions, many people ask, “Is that the same as yoga?” Although many people use the terms Pilates & yoga interchangeably thinking they are the same kind of workout, they are quite different.

The similarities between yoga & Pilates

Emphasis on the core. Yoga & Pilates both place a strong emphasis on the importance of using the core. In order to properly complete every exercise in Pilates and hold every pose in yoga, the core must be engaged and strong! Both forms of exercise will work to strengthen your core which can help to prevent injury.

Mind, body and breathing connection. Both forms of exercise emphasize the connection between your mind, body and breathing. When and how you breathe during both yoga and Pilates greatly impacts the effectiveness of your workout. Many instructors will actually instruct you on the proper breathing technique during every exercise.

Further, because Pilates may not seem very strenuous, you are asked to “trick your mind” into engaging the right muscles at the right time. For example, when you are on the Reformer apparatus doing an exercise commonly known as “basic legs,” you may have a hard time identifying which body part is working. We teach that you should feel your quads as you push away from the foot bar and your hamstring as you pull yourself back in. You have to tell your mind which muscles to use!

Low-impact workouts. Unlike exercises such as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or running, yoga and Pilates do not place a lot of stress on your joints. They allow you to get a good workout, but without the added pressure on your body. Many orthopedic doctors are now suggesting their patients turn to yoga and Pilates as their exercise form for that very reason! If you have ever experienced an injury, had surgery or get pain with more intense workouts, Pilates and/or yoga are great options to try.

Full body workouts. If you’ve ever been surrounded by an avid gym goer, you probably have heard things such as leg day, arm day, back day, etc. Most people go to the gym and focus on one or two body parts at a time and then alternate days with a new focus every day. Yoga and Pilates, however, focus on strengthening the entire body in every class. You may find that certain classes had a higher emphasis on one specific body part, but trust us when we say that your entire body is working.

Lengthen and strengthen your body. One of the major benefits of Pilates and yoga is the ability to both strengthen and lengthen the body all in one class! While you typically warm up and cool down after going to the gym with some simple stretches, Pilates and yoga work a bit differently. Many of the exercises you do are actually working to lengthen the muscles increasing flexibility while also strengthening the muscles. Consider Pilates and yoga your one stop shop!

The differences between the two

Yoga is a very spiritual experience. Yoga can help ease the mind and create clarity for the yoga-goer. Yoga teaches a breathing technique called pranayamas, which is designed to help you calm down. It is believed that if you are able to breathe through the more difficult poses in yoga, you can breathe through difficult times with clarity. Through the yoga practice, you have time to meditate, to become more aware of yourself, and be in the moment – not focusing on the things you cannot control and coming into a state of mindfulness. You may be able to “escape” during your Pilates class, but it is not the focus of the class.

Yoga & Pilates use different equipment. While it is absolutely possible to get a good yoga or Pilates workout without any equipment at all, having some of the proper equipment helps intensify your workout. For most yoga classes, all you need is a mat. For some classes, however, you may incorporate a yoga block or straps to help you get into certain poses. While some Pilates classes also utilize the use of a mat, there are also machines available to those looking to take their Pilates to the next level. Pilates classes and physical therapy sessions at the Spine & Sport Physical Therapy clinic in Rancho Santa Margarita utilize the Pilates Reformer. This machine allows you to perform exercises with a greater range of motion, while also removing the weight of gravity from the equation. Other equipment you may use in a Pilates class include the tower, chair, magic circle (or as we call it, the ring of fire!), BOSU ball, Cadillac Reformer, hand weights, TheraBands, Pilates arc, and more.

Whether you are a basketball player, stay-at-home mom, or if you sit at a desk for hours on end, yoga and Pilates reap great benefits. We recommend using a combination of both workouts to yield the best results.

If you aren’t convinced yet that Pilates and yoga are great for the body, what if we told you that doctors are even suggesting their patients try yoga and/or Pilates?! We have heard some of the top doctors in Orange County recommend to a lecture hall full of people to try Pilates and/or yoga to help strengthen their bodies, improve their flexibility, and as a result, decrease their pain.