Yoga and Pilates are often clubbed together as similar practices that essentially focus on combined mind-body coordination. But if you’re a newbie and contemplating taking up one or the other, it’s important to understand what exactly happens when you pit yoga vs Pilates.

Yoga and Pilates are both excellent for toning and strengthening the muscles, mastering breathing techniques, and generating mind-body awareness. They also complement each other beautifully, given how Joseph Pilates was inspired by the 5000-year-old art when he designed various Pilates workouts for rehabilitation and strength-training in the mid-20th century.

What’s your fitness target?
Before deciding between Yoga and Pilates, it helps to evaluate your personal fitness goals and understand what you hope to achieve from the sessions. While core-strengthening and toning is a natural result of practicing yoga, there is also plenty of focus on the spiritual side of things through meditation and deep-breathing techniques. The ultimate goal in most yoga practices is to rejuvenate the mind, while also toning and stretching different energy zones in the body.

One more thing to note in yoga vs Pilates: Pilates, while it also stresses on correct breathing and mind-body harmonization, consists of more structured movements that focus on spine alignment and core engagement. Originally developed as a rehabilitative technique for WW1 soldiers, Pilates is first and foremost about physical conditioning, though it also uses breathing and full-body stretches to get there.

Flexibility or six-pack ?
If it’s flexibility you’re looking for, yoga is a step above Pilates. Regular yoga practice, especially in holding static poses, adds to the flexibility of your muscles and joints.

Rebecca Pacheco swears by yoga for improving muscle structure and flexibility (Image: Dina Rudick | Boston Globe)
Yoga is great for improving muscle structure and flexibility (Image: Dina Rudick | Boston Globe)

As a more dynamic workout, Pilates also improves flexibility, but its main goal is strengthening and toning of muscles, particularly the core. If it’s a flatter, stronger stomach that you’re aiming for, Pilates, being more intense and focused on the abs, is likely to achieve faster results than yoga.

Workout or lifestyle?
In terms of the actual workout, Pilates classes focus more on aligning the spine and working on the core muscles. Therefore, while some sessions may involve strength-training with specific machines, others use your body’s own resistance across free-hand floor exercises that target the core muscles. As a result, Pilates workouts help in the development of long, lean muscles without adding bulk, as well as better posture that affects the way in which we carry ourselves.

All variations of the Simhasan involve a tongue stretch and the loud exhalation (
Some yoga variations involve loud exhalation to regulate breathing (

Yoga, on the other hand, provides full-body training that focuses on balance. Each asana is accompanied by a counter-posture to rejuvenate and stimulate vital organs. Even though strength-training is a part of yoga, it focuses equally on meditative and breathing techniques that demand concentration from your mind as much as from the muscles you’re stretching. Consequently, yoga is an excellent choice for maintaining and improving mental wellness and other lifestyle conditions including insomnia, depression, anxiety and stress.

Both yoga and Pilates make for an enriching addition to your fitness routine. If you’re looking for a long-term activity, it might be useful to sign up for a trial class for both disciplines and make your decision based on how your body responds at the end of it.

Talking to the instructors about your fitness goal and objectives after class will also add further clarity and help you choose better. You can also get a feel of things by scouting out fitness videos for yoga and Pilates that can be practiced from your living room, as several basic movements in both disciplines require nothing more than time and an exercise mat.

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