Is Pilates Yoga? 10 Differences Between These Two Wellness Practices

reviewed by Liz Burns 500H RYT
Last Updated:

Is pilates yoga? This is a question that we yoga teachers receive more than you might think.

Many people are curious about what sets Pilates and yoga apart, and it’s understandable. These popular wellness practices might look like two peas in a pod, both promising flexibility, strength, and a healthy body.

But, surprise! They’re not as similar as they appear.

In this article, we’re unraveling the puzzle of Pilates and yoga, making it easy to see how they’re different and what they share. So, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned practitioner, you’ll soon be on your way to better understanding these two seemingly similar practices.

We’ll be covering:

  • The similarities between yoga and Pilates
  • The differences between yoga and Pilates
  • Is pilates yoga? A summary
group of pilates students in plank

Is pilates yoga? No, But they share some similarities

Before diving into the differences between Pilates and yoga, the two practices do share some similarities that explain why they often get confused as related or even the same.

Firstly, both are considered mind-body disciplines and thus share several key similarities in their approach to physical and mental wellness. For example, both prioritize the importance of controlled breathing techniques, fostering mindfulness, and relaxation during practice.

Through a series of deliberate movements designed for particular benefits, they also both aim to enhance flexibility, core strength, and posture – although to different degrees and with different philosophies behind this goal (more on this later!)

Also, many Pilates moves are actually very similar to those in yoga because they are actually derived from ancient yoga asanas.

Additionally, both pilates and yoga are considered low-impact exercise practices that can cater to a wide range of fitness levels, making them accessible to many individuals.

In fact, there are variations and modifications available in both Pilates and yoga to accommodate beginners, intermediates, and advanced practitioners, so both practices can be adapted to suit different fitness levels and physical abilities.

woman with a pilates ring - is pilates yoga?

Both disciplines also emphasize body awareness and alignment.

This means that practitioners of both yoga and pilates learn to maintain proper posture, alignment, and balance during exercises or poses, making them great for improving overall posture, reducing the risk of injury, and bettering the mind-body connection.

The above are just a few of the things that these two practices share. With these in mind, it’s easy to get confused between yoga and Pilates as despite their many differences, they also have a lot of similarities!

Is Pilates yoga? 4 Reasons why They’re not the Same

Now we know a little about their similarities, time to look at the differences between Pilates and yoga.

#1: Origin

The most significant and deciding difference between Pilates and yoga lies in their contrasting origins.

While there is no exact consensus on yoga’s chronology or origins, we do know that yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India and developed over time into a multifaceted discipline, incorporating asanas, pranayama, meditation, spiritual insights, and more.

Related Article: The Eight Limbs of Yoga: An Essential Guide

Unlike Pilates, Yoga evolved very slowly, over thousands of years with contributions from various schools of thought, including the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which all contributed to the codification of classical yoga philosophy and practices.

group of yogis in a class

Whilst not a religion in itself, Yoga exists among the six schools of philosophy in Hinduism and is also a major part of Buddhism and its meditation practices.

In contrast, Pilates is a relatively modern practice developed by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, initially as a rehabilitation method for World War I soldiers.

Pilates was among the earliest influential figures to merge Western and Eastern concepts of health and fitness in this way. Joseph was inspired by yoga asana and pranayama in his health research, which is why many of the postures in Pilates resemble asanas from yoga.

Through extensive research, Joseph formed what we now know as Pilates – a rounded mental and physical conditioning regimen, that emphasizes various principles, including proper breathing, spinal alignment, and most importantly, the cultivation of a robust core.

Initially, Joseph referred to this system as ‘Controlology,’ however, this term eventually became synonymous with his surname, hence why today the practice is better known as simply ‘Pilates’.

#2: Philosophy & Spirituality

Far more than mere physical exercises, yoga is a broad and rich holistic philosophy of how to live well, of which asana (physical postures) is just one aspect.

Indeed, yoga is a comprehensive system, a set of guidelines for balanced and harmonious living that includes asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, ethical principles (yamas and niyamas), and spiritual exploration.

woman meditating in an all pink outfit

According to traditional yoga philosophy and the eight limbs of yoga, asana (the third limb) traditionally serves the purpose of readying the body for meditation.

Yoga asanas are thus purposefully designed and selected for the particular physical, emotional, energetic, and spiritual conditions they are believed to induce, which then serve as a means to attain the goal of yoga:

Enlightenment through the integration of one’s individual mind, body, and spirit.

In this sense, yoga incorporates physical exercise (asana) not for the end goal of physical conditioning, but because it’s an important part of a lifestyle believed to be conducive to harmonizing the body, mind, and spirit, aiming for self-realization and inner peace.

Pilates, on the other hand, emphasizes physical fitness as its primary goal, particularly core strength, flexibility, and overall body conditioning. The postures are selected primarily for their ability to condition the body physically, rather than for their spiritual effect.

Thus, while Pilates can have mental and mind-body benefits, it is widely recognized to lack the spiritual and philosophical aspects and traditions associated with yoga.

#3: Class Structure & Exercise vs Asana

Another difference between Pilates and yoga is the structure of sessions.

Yoga sessions usually start with a centering meditation, breathwork, perhaps a mantra, and other spiritual components – and should always end with a savasana meditation.

two yogis in forward fold

Yoga classes usually last between 60 to 90+ minutes and involve flowing through various poses using one’s body weight as resistance, often requiring practitioners to hold these poses for extended periods.

While class structure may vary depending on the style of yoga or Pilates being practiced, in general, yoga classes are typically less fast-paced, more focused on flexibility, and place greater emphasis on mindfulness and deep breathing throughout the practice.

On the other hand, Pilates places a stronger emphasis on muscle toning, body control, and core strength development, prioritizing fitness-focused goals.

The workouts usually last between 45 and 60 minutes and tend to be slighter faster-paced, incorporating various exercise machines such as the reformer, with less static rest time in poses.

For example, in yoga, people usually take on specific poses and either hold them for a while or smoothly transition into different positions. In Pilates, on the other hand, you usually start with a pose, but instead of staying still, you challenge the core by moving your arms or legs.

Keep in mind, though, that these are just general rules of thumb – yoga can sometimes involve moving your arms and legs too, just as Pilates can also involve staying still at times.

#4: Variety of styles

Another important way in which yoga and Pilates differ is in the variations, offshoots, and diversity they offer.

Yoga has incredible variety, stemming from its ancient roots in India and the way it has evolved over centuries, whereas Pilates is less broad.

woman on pilates reformer

From the vigorous and physically demanding Ashtanga and Power Yoga to the gentle and meditative Yin to the focused Hatha, yoga encompasses a vast spectrum of styles, each with its unique approach and philosophy…

Not to mention creative variations like aerial and goat yoga!

Pilates, on the other hand, has fewer offshoots and is more constrained in the range of styles it offers, with most primarily revolving around traditional mat classes and reformer sessions as the mainstay.

While there are some variations such as classical Pilates, contemporary Pilates, and hybrid Pilates fusion classes that blend Pilates with complementary exercise modalities, the differences between these styles are more subtle than between styles of yoga.

Therefore, in terms of diversity and the range of styles available, yoga stands out as a much broader and more varied practice compared to Pilates.

Is Pilates Yoga? The Summary

In sum, yoga and pilates are two mind-body exercise disciplines easily confused by newbies as they share some commonalities.

The biggest difference is that they have distinct origins. Yoga, rooted in ancient India, has a centuries-old history encompassing both spirituality and exercise. In contrast, Pilates was only devised in the early 20th century by a German anatomist, for injury rehabilitation purposes.

Next, while both practices emphasize physical strength, flexibility, and body coordination, they differ in their approach and focus. Pilates often uses equipment like reformers, whereas yoga more commonly involves holding poses with the assistance of gravity and simple props.

man in seated meditation

Moreover, both disciplines promote mindfulness and mental well-being, but yoga places a far greater emphasis on spiritual and meditative aspects, while Pilates leans more towards physical fitness and core strength.

Put simply, yoga is a broad philosophy that offers guidance on how to live a balanced and ethical life both on and off the mat. It’s a lifestyle path designed for better living and spiritual liberation in which physical asana practice is just one aspect (see the yogic path).

Pilates, on the other hand, is simply a form of pose-based exercise that has an emphasis on mind-body connection but is mostly aimed at physical conditioning.

Further reading

Is pilates yoga? You’ve now got your answer(s!) – so why not check out our similar articles below:

Photo of author
Tish Qvortrup is a Brighton-born Yogi, with a passion for living intentionally. A Yoga Alliance registered 500hr teacher, she found her calling in Yin and Yang yoga. In her spare time, she loves exploring the outdoors and cooking plant-based goodies.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.