Yoga vs. Pilates; Which One Is Best?

The answer is simple, both are incredible and if I were made to choose one, I couldn’t.  Instead, I will give you the features and benefits of each and allow you to decide for yourself.

What is the difference in the actual workout?
Yoga vs Pilates

Floor/Mat Pilates offers repetitive movements that engage the core and isolate different muscle groups.  Although most of the exercises are done lying down, you exert plenty of energy trying to activate your core, engaging, then moving the particular muscles, and at the same time, taking in breath.  Because of the repetitions, you strengthen the muscles while enhancing range of motion.   

Yoga is done from a standing, sitting or laying down position.  Some forms of yoga are considered a “flow” of movement taking you from one position to another rather quickly.  Others are static, meaning poses are held for a length of time, usually measured in breathes.  Similar to Pilates, yoga strengthens muscles through balance moves and muscle engagement, but the emphasis is on stretching and releasing.

What is the difference in breathing technique?

Pilates teaches you to breathe in through the nose and most philosophies suggest exhaling through the mouth.  Because all of the Pilates moves engage the core muscles, breath needs to be taken into the upper diaphragm, filling and expanding the ribcage.  This way, the abdomen can remain engaged while you breathe.  Since all of Pilates engages the core muscles, learning the breathing techniques are crucial to getting the full benefit of exercise.

Yoga teaches breathing in through the nose and out through the nose, using the breathe as a form of meditation.  With each inhale, one positions oneself in the pose, usually lifting up and elongating the spine, and on an exhale, one releases and goes deeper into the pose.   Since all of the moves are based on an inhale and exhale, it forces you to draw in more air and increase your lung capacity in order to keep up in class.  This is one of yoga’s best benefits.

What can you expect from doing each?

Pilate movements constantly reinforce correct posture and since it is all about the abdomen, you see immediate results in posture and relief from lower back issues.  Also, if done correctly, increase in muscle tone is evident very quickly, most especially in the legs.     

Yoga, most especially Power Yoga, will increase stamina because of all the breath work, and flexibility is increased immediately.  Although Yoga might take a little longer to show muscle definition, it will most definitely cut muscles as you progress into intermediate and advanced moves, especially in the arms, back and legs.

Another aspect of yoga is the mediation which makes some people run to it and others cringe.  It might take some time, but everyone who does yoga, eventually craves the meditation as it enhances all aspects of your life when you begin to embrace the spiritual side of the practice.

Where should you start if you're a beginner?

Pilates classes are great for beginners because there are many simple moves one can start with.  If you have any back or neck issues, these exercises will force you to overcome the weakness.  Make sure you tell the instructor what your limitations are so s/he can help you adjust your movements to prevent injury. 

Yoga offers several types of classes that range from beginner to hard core power.  It is important to start off with a beginner class if you are stiff and would like to use Yoga to improve flexibility.  If you are into power but have never done yoga, take a beginner power class with the idea that once you learn the basics, you will get the best workout of your life.  Many people believe Yoga is a sedentary practice, but once you get into it, it can become the most powerful part of your exercise routine, including strength training with weights.

Why would you need either if you're already in shape?

Pilates concentrates on core power and although athletes have muscle, they don’t necessarily use the right muscles at the right time.  Case in point, while training with college athletes, male and female, I noticed that they could not get into a head stand from a pike position, while I could do it with ease.  Of course, they are less than half my age and have way more muscle, especially the boys, and some even have six packs, but they still couldn’t do it.  I realized that they were overworking muscle groups, like their shoulders, backs and legs trying to get up into the head stand.  Instead of letting them overstrain, I showed them how to isolate the core muscles which allowed their legs to “float” up into the position.  It took a little time, but they eventually got the concept.  Can you imagine how this “engagement technique” can help with any number of sports?

Yoga is an exceptional tool for athletes because it increases flexibility.  Most strong people think that they are inflexible and can never “bend”.  They just accept this aspect of strength training and consider it a weakness, but that is not so.  I explain to them that sometimes inflexibility is a sign of strength, meaning that their muscles are not allowing for movement because they are strong.  The key to yoga is to keep that muscle strong and at the same time help it to stretch, which increases range of motion, giving any athlete an incredible edge in their sport, not to mention decreasing the potential for injury.

Also, some sports overuse some muscle groups and cause weaknesses in others.  Yoga andPilates will help the body to pinpoint and compensate for these weaknesses,  offering a more balanced synergy of movement.

What have Yoga and Pilates done for me?

Since the onset of my Pilates practice, I have been complimented over and over about my posture.  When I first started, I couldn’t even sit on the mat with my back straight because I was so inflexible in the hip area, but as time went on, I became more erect and noticed myself standing on the grocery line with my feet in a Pilates stance and my shoulders and arms engaged.  Almost immediately, I saw results in my legs, which I always considered to be “tree trunks”.  The leg series actually created cuts in and around the knees and thigh area, giving me definition I could see through my jeans!  That was enough to keep me going and never stop.

Donna BackbendYoga was a totally different experience for me.  I have to be honest; I avoided it like the plague for years because of the meditation aspect.  Finally, because of my research, I had to at least try it.  From the first day, I was hooked!  Although in the beginning I escaped each class before meditation began, I eventually forced myself to stay till the end, and to my surprise; it became the most profound part of my practice. 

Because of the immense upper body workout of power Yoga, my arms and shoulders started to take on new form.  I joke about panicking one day after finding a dense lump on my arm, and then realizing it was my triceps!   Although the workout is enough to promote muscle growth, the breathing and aerobic aspect really reduces body fat.  As of now, with doing yoga every day, if I don’t add good fats to my diet, I tend to lose weight and that is a problem I enjoy having.

So to sum it up, without Pilates and all the core work I have done, I don’t believe I would have advanced as quickly in my Yoga practice.  Without Yoga, I don’t think I would be as healthy and peaceful about my body and my life.  Both are a complete compliment to one another and I feel myself getting younger every day.  With the addition of some aerobics, and a little weight training, I am satisfied that I will live to a healthy 100, be the first and last on the dance floor for the rest of my life, and still be flexible enough to lift my foot over my head.   Now those are benefits that are worth an hour a day of my time.