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  • Sandy Jolles

Pilates vs. Yoga, What is the Difference?

Updated: May 10, 2021

Pilates is one of my favorite formats to teach, but I frequently have students that ask me how it differs from a traditional yoga class. Expounding on what it means by a mind-body modality, both of these formats inspire awareness and thoughtfulness as we move. This allows us to be cognizant of when an exercise is working for us, or when it may be detrimental to our long-term physical health. Ultimately, both formats allow us to draw inwards, and listen to what our body is telling us. This may result in greater awareness and vitality to bring more focus and calmness to your life. When we leave the mat, we usually feel both energized and refreshed as these formats stretch, strengthen, and elongate your muscles.


In yoga, it's about breathing in and out through the nose, and breathing into the belly. In Pilates, we like to breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth, encouraging lateral breathing. This refers to breathing into the sides as opposed to allowing the chest to elevate and the belly to inflate (as is common in yoga). A common cue I'll say is, "As you inhale, feel the ribcage push the hands away to the sides of the room. As you exhale, just bringing the hands and ribs. back together again."


In yoga, this is referred to as yoga poses or asanas where we hold a pose. With Pilates, we do exercises that move through that body position. In general, Pilates does a bevy of side-lying exercises, while yoga moves through more standing exercises. While Pilates tends to keep moving throughout the exercises, yogic poses are held for a length of time. The choreography of Pilates exercises involves many muscle groups, which rhythmically contract and release to create fluid movement. Once the exercises are learned, they can be performed in sequence to flow seamlessly from one exercise to the next.


Unique to only Pilates, centering has physical and mental applications with a focus on the core/powerhouse in every exercise. This means drawing your attention to your body and the specific muscles working in each movement, laying the foundation for body placement, movement sequencing, and breath.


When selecting a Pilates mat, choose one that's approximately 6 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Yoga mats tend to be much thinner (less than 1/8 inch thick), and therefore don't provide the same level of comfort needed to perform certain exercises.

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