Pilates Versus Yoga: Which Is Better For Beginners?

Pilates or yoga? How do you choose? As a Pilates teacher I often hear people using the terms interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between the two. In this blog I’ll help you get a clearer idea of your personal needs and health goals, along with setting out the similarities and differences between yoga and Pilates so you can make the choice that’s right for you.

Understanding your needs as a beginner

Before we focus on the specifics of yoga and Pilates, let’s start by clarifying your personal needs.

As a beginner you’ll be looking for:

  • Something that’s quick and easy to get started with, so things like not having to buy fancy equipment or specialist clothing will be important to you.
  • A variety of levels so you can build your confidence from the outset.
  • An exercise workout that’s enjoyable and leaves a smile on your face!

The good news is that yoga and Pilates meet all of these requirements.

Your health goals

Have you thought about your health goals in relation to your new exercise programme?

You might have been recommended to try yoga or Pilates by a health professional or you might have a health goal of your own that you have identified. Having a goal will help give you focus and motivation to stay committed to your new exercise habit.

You might want to:

  • Minimise the effects of ageing, for example lack of strength and flexibility
  • Combat a sedentary lifestyle
  • Strengthen your pelvic floor
  • Manage back pain
  • Rehabilitate after injury

Yoga and Pilates can help you achieve all of the goals mentioned above. However, if your primary goal is to lose weight then yoga and Pilates aren’t the best choice. Instead, you should consider a cardio-based activity that will help you burn fat more effectively, for example brisk walking or running.

Now that your needs and goals have been established, let’s explore the similarities and differences between yoga and Pilates.

The similarities between yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates are both low impact forms of exercise that focus on developing strength and flexibility to create a balanced body. They emphasise building a strong mind-body connection and use breathing as an integral part of every movement to help people combat stress and anxiety. They are both easy to learn from home, which makes them a good choice for a beginner.

The differences between yoga and Pilates

Yoga is much older than Pilates and its origins can be traced back 5,000 years to India. Whilst it is not a religion in itself it has roots in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In contrast Pilates was developed in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates in response to his own childhood health problems and also from his work helping to rehabilitate injured soldiers during the first world war. He took inspiration from a wide variety of exercise, including martial arts and yoga.

Yoga focuses primarily on flexibility whereas Pilates focuses on core strength but both forms of exercise include flexibility and strength work. Yoga can sometimes take your body through extreme ranges of movement. In contrast, Pilates will take your body through a healthy range of movement, which is why it is often recommended by physiotherapists. Both will help you improve your stability and balance skills. This is backed up by Prof Greg Whyte, a former Olympian and now leading authority on sports science who was reported in the Guardian as saying, “Generally speaking, yoga is much more about flexibility and stability, Pilates is strength and stability.”

Yoga and Pilates have a different style of movement and it is this that also stands them apart. Most Yoga classes will take you through various poses / sequences whereas Pilates requires you to carefully perform individual exercises using precise movements.

Yoga has a spiritual basis but this is not true of Pilates where no spiritual connection exists. Some, but not all, yoga classes also include mediation to help you develop your concentration skills and increase your mind-body connection. In contrast, Pilates is based on six principles of: breathing, centering, concentration, control, flow and precision. You are reminded of these principles when you are taught Pilates and it is through this reinforcement that your skills are developed.

Yoga uses belly breathing and Pilates uses ribcage breathing but both will require you to use breathing as an integral part of each movement you perform. In Yoga you breathe in through your nose as your belly expands and then out again as the belly contracts. This helps you feel relaxed and peaceful. In Pilates you inhale through your nose as you expand your ribcage. You then exhale through your mouth, engaging your core muscles as you do so. This breathing helps to mobile your upper body releasing tension in the chest and shoulders.

Making your choice

What’s best overall will depend on your goals, physiology and preferences. My advice to you is to try some yoga and Pilates taster classes for yourself. Ultimately the one you enjoy the most is one you should choose and the one you will stick at for the long term.


About Kat


I'm a Pilates teacher and writer based in the UK.

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I write a regular personal development blog for Professional Academy and I’ve also written for T3 magazine.

If you need content that’s focused on Pilates / health / wellbeing then drop me a line.