Pilates versus yoga: what is the difference?

Pilates versus yoga: what is the difference?

What is the difference between pilates versus yoga? Your local gym might offer classes for both. Are you confused about which one you should take? Let’s look at how pilates and yoga compare.

Pilates versus yoga: history and philosophy

Historical context

Joseph Pilates (Wikipedia) invented the pilates exercise system in the early 1900s. His goal was to improve physical and mental health through controlled body movements with roots in calisthenics. The six principles of modern pilates are concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing.

Yoga, on the other hand, arose from ancient India and is thousands of years old. Yoga aims for self-discovery through combined physical, mental, and spiritual practices. The original intent of many of the stretches and poses was to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Traditional yoga has many different flavors or “schools”, each with its own distinctive emphasis and style.

Spiritual traditions

Many people will point to spirituality as a key difference between pilates and yoga, as well as the roots in ancient or modern history. While these are points are true, in reality, the actual philosophical differences can be much smaller.

For example, current yoga classes usually derive their curriculum from modern, westernized yoga practices. And while there may be yoga instructors who lead chanting and OMing, you also have celebrity fat-loss yoga workouts that area much closer to calisthenics and pilates.

The diversity of pilates and yoga styles means that the historical aspects are often irrelevant. What is important is your instructor and his or her teaching approach. Purists might cringe at the thought, but pilates and yoga are on a spectrum of shared physical and mental practices. Broadly speaking, pilates might tend to lean more towards outer health, while yoga might tend to lean more towards inner health.

Pilates versus yoga: what are the benefits of each?

pilates versus yoga

Pilates and yoga can both contribute towards improved general health. However, there are some general trends in the type of benefits you can receive from each.

Core strength

Pilates focuses on developing core strength and control. Many of the exercises are performed fairly rapidly or repetitively to strengthen and tone muscle groups. Movements transition quickly between one action to another. You can get a cardio workout as well. Certain power and active styles of yoga, such as vinyasa, also contribute to core strength in a cardio style workout.

Improved flexibility

Pilates can improve flexibility. However, classic yoga is generally more focused on improving the limits of flexibility than pilates. In fact, people with hypermobility problems (too flexible!) are sometimes advised to avoid yoga and pursue pilates or calisethenics instead.

Rehabilitation and relaxation

Yin or restorative yoga styles are slow and gentle. This type of yoga is also great for the elderly or those recovering form an injury. Mentally, yoga focuses more on relaxation and living in the moment. The focus on self and stillness can create clarity.

Pilates can also be used for recovery. There are specialized pilates machines to develop problematic muscle groups and body parts. Because pilates instruction can involve one-on-one interactions, it lends itself very well to personalized rehabilitation programs. Instead of relaxation, the focus on pilates might be refreshment or re-energizing.

Pilates versus yoga: what are the drawbacks?


In general, pilates classes are more expensive than yoga classes. Why is this?

A typical yoga class could include one instructor and 50 students. Each student focuses on his or her own progress. In many cases, the instructor is more of a general guide.

Pilates classes are often smaller and more personalized. Pilates instructors can act more like a personal trainer. The smaller class size is one reason for the higher cost.

A full pilates gym setup will also include specialized equipment. Yoga only requires a mat, and in some cases, a few low cost accessories like straps or blocks. This equipment requirement for pilates also contributes to a higher cost as well.


Not only are pilates classes typically more expensive than yoga classes. They are also harder to find.

Part of the difference in availability is due to pricing and demand. Yoga classes are cheaper, more popular, and better known in general. If you combine all of the many yoga styles, it will be much easier to find a yoga class than a pilates class.

The need at times for specialized pilates equipment means it is also more expensive for a gym to offer a full pilates class. Pilates instructors are also less common. These factors all make yoga classes much easier to find.

Pilates versus yoga: different mat requirements

Because pilates incorporates more groundwork, pilates mats must be thicker than yoga mats to protect your spine and joints. Pilates mats are typically around 12-15mm for extra cushion.

Most yoga mats range from 3mm-6mm thick, as it is more important to feel a connection with the ground. Mats that are too thick will make your pose wobbly. Excessively thick mats also cause wrist pain.

You can read more about the difference between pilates and yoga mats in our review of thick mats. You shouldn’t mix the two up. If you are looking for a pilates mat, see our review of best pilates mats. If you are looking for yoga mats, see our review of best yoga mats.

Pilates versus yoga: which one is right for you?

Below are videos of brief pilates and yoga workouts so you can compare the differences for yourself. Both workout videos are 4 minutes long, but you can see they have very different styles.

Again, because of the wide variety of instructor styles, the only way for you to know which is better is to try out real pilates and yoga classes in your area. Good luck! Let us know below in the comments which one you prefer, pilates versus yoga.

Leave a Comment