Whats the difference between Yoga and Pilates?

This is a question that came up in my class last week so I this blog explores the answer in more depth... There's a lot of similarites between Yoga and Pilates, indeed some of the exercises are identical just with different names. The key difference for me is the philosophy behind the practice and the overall aim of the class.

Pilates: Pilates was developed by Joseph Pilates in World War One as a form of rehabilitation for injured soldiers. Today it's still widely used as a rehabilitation tool by physiotherapists and sports therapists for numerous muscle and joint problems. Pilates can be adapted to suit people of all levels from those recovering from back pain or surgery, all the way through to an injury prevention or conditioning programme for professional dancers or elite sports people. It's focus is on the core and postural muscles which help to support our spine. Strengthening our deep 'foundation' layer of muscles gives us a stable base from which we can maximise performance of other muscle groups. During a Pilates class there is also emphasis on learning good body awareness and posture as well as breathing and balance exercises. A typical class is mat-based with 2 -3 minutes spent working on each exercise. The main muscle groups worked include the abdominals, gluts, spinal and neck muscles. A good class should start slowly with emphasis on correct spinal alignment, control and breathing before exercises are progressed.

Yoga: Yoga has been practiced for over 5000 years and originated in India. It is non-religious although it has a much more spiritual aspect than Pilates with emphasis on a mind, body and soul experience. Yoga classes can vary hugely (see my blog on understanding Yoga here), however the philosophy is on linking body and mind though breathing and exercise. It usually involves a set of postures (asanas) which are linked in a flowing routine moving from one to the next. These asanas aim to improve over flexibility of all joints, particularly the spine, hips and shoulders, as well as developing balance and strength in larger muscle groups. Yoga classes usually involve some form of breathing exercise and mediation however how much time spent on these will vary depending on the instructor.

Which is best??? People can benefit from both Yoga and Pilates, the most important thing is to find what you enjoy and what feels good for your body. Generally if you are very bendy (hypermobile), Pilates will be better for you to help gain stability and strength through your joints, and if you’re stiff Yoga is great to improve flexibility. Yoga and Pilates complement each other well so you don't have to choose!

Do I need to come to a class? The internet has a wealth of online classes and DVDs can be a good way of keeping up practice at home, however the only way to make sure you’re doing the exercises safely and correctly is to come to a class with a trained Pilates/Yoga instructor. They will also be able to guide you through exercises of the right level, help you develop correct breathing techniques and teach you modifications where necessary to prevent injury. Classes also are more social and encourage regular practice. If you struggle to make a class, why not think about 1-2-1 or 2-2-1 classes​ in your own home.