Pilates vs. Yoga: The Key Differences and Benefits

Yoga and pilates are both beneficial, and their variety allows practitioners to find a style that works best for them.

Pilates and yoga offer multiple health benefits, with results including improved strength and flexibility. Both exercises involve mindful movements that support body weight and work various muscles.

People interested in yoga or pilates are typically looking for a relaxing low-impact workout that offers beneficial physical changes.

As the popularity of yoga and pilates continues to rise in the world of health and wellness, the confusion surrounding the difference between the two forms of exercise is also increasing.

Here’s what you need to know about the practices and which one may be best for you. 


What’s The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates? 

Yoga and pilates are low-impact workouts with an emphasis on bodyweight resistance. Both forms of exercise focus on all the muscles rather than specific muscle groups.

Yoga is a type of holistic discipline that focuses on the union of mind, body, and spirit. Pilates is a system of exercises that emphasize proper alignment, core strength, and muscle balance.

Pilates and yoga have multiple variations, and classes are available at gyms, studios, and even online for personal, in-home practice. For both, classes can vary depending on skill, desired intensity, and goals.

The differences between yoga and pilates may seem a bit ambiguous. That’s because, though there are inherent differences between them, they also share many similar characteristics.

Let’s learn a bit more about each.


Yoga began in India over 3,000 years ago to create a mind-body connection through breathing techniques, meditation, and movement.

With roots in Eastern religions, it is considered not just to be a form of exercise but a holistic approach to health and consciousness.

For true well-being to be attained, yogis believe that a complete synergy of all parts of the human body must be achieved.

This means that if the mind is not functioning correctly, proper health cannot be reached even if the physical self is at peak performance. 

To yogis, holistic health involves proper relaxation, healthy food, exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation.

Different types of yoga and styles exist. For example, Kundalini, which is slower and focuses on breathing exercises, chanting, and meditation.

On the opposite side, there is Vinyasa yoga, which involves a fast-paced flow of movement. Because the types of yoga are so varied, the practitioner can choose based upon their fitness goal. 

Equipment Needed

It’s possible to say that yoga needs no equipment at all. For thousands of years, it required nothing more than the yogi.

Though most people probably own at least one exercise mat, even having that is not necessary. Though yoga classes in studios require the use of a mat, they usually offer rentals.

If you’re practicing at home, you really don’t need one. You can practice on the carpet, bare floorboards, or even grass. 

Some yoga poses may involve bolsters, blankets, straps, and blocks. Again, most studio classes will offer these though some may charge a rental fee.

Blocks are used to “bring the floor closer,” while straps make the arms longer. These accessories are recommended for beginners who may not have the flexibility for certain poses but need to maintain the correct posture.

Bolsters and blankets offer support and extra padding and are often used in poses such as savasana.

It’s up to the yogi to decide which yoga practice to do and what equipment he or she needs. A yoga teacher may offer modifications without the need for any equipment.

Benefits of Yoga

A yoga routine is a go-to exercise for people looking for ways to live a healthy and mindful life and focus on their mind-body connection.

The focus on breathing and meditation involved in each pose is known as effective forms of stress relief. 

On the physical health end of the spectrum, yoga has positively affected cardio and respiratory fitness (1).

A routine, such as Yin yoga, with sequences that focus on flexibility, can improve posture. This results in the appearance of a leaner and more toned physique. 

A 2015 study showed evidence that people who practice yoga regularly have lower levels of inflammatory markers (2).

Inflammation is linked to many long-term diseases, such as asthma, arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. Yoga, with its ability to lessen inflammation, can help the body keep chronic diseases at bay. 

Yoga is thought to relieve migraines, improve balance and mobility, and promote better sleep through increasing melatonin production (3, 4, 5). 

The extensive studies on yoga have shown many more benefits to the mind and body.

Disadvantages of Yoga

Pictures on social media often show incredibly fit and attractive people wearing expensive clothing explicitly designed for yogis.

They’re contorting themselves into impossible-looking positions that you might feel you should be able to do. It’s important to realize that this image of the ideal yoga practitioner is a fabricated one. 

You don’t need to spend money on expensive clothes, or any clothes at all. Chances are you have something in your closet that will work just fine.

With yoga, your ego can be your most significant setback. If you push yourself too hard, you have a greater risk of injury.

If you have patience and learn to pay attention to your body, you will eventually get to your ideal place. That may not be a pretzel-shaped position like you see on Instagram, but it will be the perfect place for you. 

In-studio classes can sometimes be expensive, which can be a disadvantage for those on a budget.

It’s a good idea, as a beginner, to go to a few classes at a gym or studio so a yoga instructor can help to make sure you’re practicing correctly.

But as you progress, your practice can continue in the privacy of your living room if that’s what is most comfortable for you. 


Pilates is a relatively new physical fitness system that Joseph Pilates developed during World War I.

The purpose of the fitness system was to rehabilitate bedridden soldiers by strengthening, stretching, and stabilizing specific muscles. 

The main principles of this exercise are correct alignment, concentration, precision, centering, control, breathing, and flow.

These principles are achieved through movements that focus on body awareness, core strength, and stability. 

Similar to yoga, Joseph Pilates believed in body conditioning through mental and physical health.

However, while yoga is considered a form of exercise that has the practitioner focus inward, pilates asks the practitioner to focus their awareness on their physical body. 

Equipment Needed

Pilates can be done with or without equipment, depending on the style chosen.

Reformer pilates requires the use of a machine and is the most common type of equipment. The reformer is a bed-like frame with a rolling platform, invented by Joseph Pilates himself.

It uses springs and ropes to add resistance to a workout. This method requires complete and precise control of the body to avoid injuries. 

Other types of apparatus include the Wunda Chair, the Cadillac, and the ladder barrel.

Some forms of pilates focus on mat work and do require a mat. Small Pilates props include bands for resistance, foam rollers, balls, and even blocks.

Benefits of Pilates

Doctors highly recommend individuals use pilates for rehabilitation, lower injury risk, and overall health.

Pilates balances the body’s muscles, so they are neither too loose nor too tight, both states which can make the body more susceptible to injury.

With its focus on dynamic strength, the joints are stabilized and better supported. Research shows that cross-training with pilates is helpful for athletes, making the body more limber (6).

Pilates is thought to be a very effective form of fitness training for pre-and postnatal women as it strengthens the pelvic floor and can reduce joint and muscle discomfort.

Possibly the most notable benefit of pilates is its rehabilitation capabilities (7). The targeted movements in pilates can be modified for those in chronic pain with impaired movement and performance.

Disadvantages of Pilates

Pilates sessions can also be expensive. For some forms, such as Reformer Pilates, access to equipment is mandatory.

It’s crucial to learn how to perform precision movements correctly, and a Pilates instructor is needed to teach the correct postures and moves.

Even with Mat Pilates, it is still essential to learn how to practice appropriately to avoid injury, and the best way for beginners to do this is to pay for a class.

However, Mat classes can eventually be done at home once the practitioner learns how to perform the exercise routine correctly.

Pilates or Yoga: Which One Is Better?

Pilates and yoga are well suited to different body types and abilities, and both offer multiple benefits.

For a person who enjoys strength training, such as workouts are done at the gym, the resistance training offered in a Pilates class may suit them.

If someone enjoys a more spiritual practice with flowing, full-body motion, yoga may be the better choice of the two.

But when it comes to yoga vs. pilates, are there apparent differences between what the two workouts can offer in specific areas?

Let’s explore.

Mental Health 

Of the two exercises, yoga may be better for relaxation and improving mental health.

A 2019 study looked at the mental wellness effects of yoga on one group of women and pilates on another group (8).

While both were found to improve well-being and lower stress levels, the women who practiced yoga saw more remarkable improvement. 

The focus on breath and self-awareness involved in yoga, the consciousness engaged in the flow of careful movement, connects oneself positively to the body.

This means a yogi becomes more in tune with their mental state, more practiced at self-care, and simply calmer in general. 

Regular physical activity, no matter the type, has many benefits. It can result in improved mental health as it stimulates the production of serotonin.

Making the positive choice to take some time out of a schedule to work out can also positively impact how one feels mentally. 


Both yoga and pilates are good for improving flexibility.

A 2014 study found that women who practiced pilates for 12 weeks improved their torso flexibility (9). Another study found that Hatha practitioners improved their flexibility after 12 weeks as well (10). 

Some experts believe that the slower practices, such as Yin yoga, are better for flexibility.

Slow styles hold poses for longer and work on stretching out muscle and connective tissues, improving range of motion. The deep poses and long holds of Ashtanga yoga can also improve flexibility. 

While flexibility will improve in pilates, it’s not a central theme of the workout the way it is with yoga.

Weight Loss

The impact of yoga vs. pilates on weight loss depends on the style and energy expenditure of the class chosen. A more intense practice will burn more calories.

A 50-minute power yoga class will burn about 250 calories, whereas a Pilates beginner can expect to burn approximately 175 in 50 minutes class, and an advanced practitioner between 255-375.

Most fitness experts suggest pairing yoga and pilates with high-intensity activity, such as running, that raises the heart rate.

Studies have shown that practitioners of yoga tend to make healthier choices with their diet (11).

By being more in tune with their bodies, yogis can identify unhealthy food cravings and curb emotional eating and binge eating. This results in a better-quality diet which may help with weight loss. 

Getting Stronger

Again, there is no clear winner as to which is better to achieve greater strength.

It takes a lot of core strength and endurance to hold postures that require balance. Practicing yoga regularly can make a difference in strength and stability.

Pilates focuses on core work and resistance training, so it can also build and strengthen core muscles. With regular practice, pilates and yoga can have the effect of increasing muscle tone. 

Health experts suggest that yoga or pilates to be used in conjunction with weight training.

Because the results of both exercise activities are improved flexibility, mobility, and balance, they can help with your ability to perform gym exercises, such as squats, correctly.

Yoga and pilates also decrease the chances of harming yourself in the gym.

The Takeaway

When it comes to pilates vs. yoga, there’s no clear winner. Both improve posture, breath, fitness levels physically and mentally. Everyone can benefit from a class or two in a week as an addition to their workout routine.

Ultimately it just comes down to personal preference and what your goals are. If you’re looking to strengthen your core muscles, pilates may be for you.

On the other hand, Hatha yoga, which focuses on spirituality and relaxation, makes yoga a better choice for stress reduction.

But who says you have to choose yoga or pilates? Try them both, experiment with different types, and see which one you like better. Or you can do them both.

Even Joseph Pilates himself saw the two as complementary practices, each adding to holistic health in their own way.

Just get on the mat and see what feels good to you!