Pilates and yoga are sometimes considered interchangeable. Matwork pilates is done on a mat just like yoga, and both movement forms can use props. They both work on the breath, engaging the core, flexibility and strength. So how are they different?
In Pilates we engage our core muscles and move on the exhale, which is the opposite to yoga! Many people have asked me why the breathing is opposite. As a Pilates instructor, it feels right for me to engage my pelvic floor and ‘make myself skinny’ when I’m creating natural space in the body with the exhale. Yogis are used to the opposite breathing, and that often feels natural to them.
Pilates mats are thicker and softer than yoga mats. In Pilates there’s some rolling the spine and sometimes inversions where we’re up on our shoulders and the softer mats help protect our backs. You can do Pilates on a yoga mat, but it won’t be as comfortable. You can do yoga on a Pilates mat, but it will make some of the balances and stretches less stable. It’s best to use the correct mat for the correct movement practice.
Yoga originates from Northern India over 5,000 years ago as a spiritual practice. Yoga was originally designed as a moving meditation, and the aim of the practice was to achieve stillness of the body and mind. Today there are many schools of yoga with varied levels of spiritual or physical emphasis.
Pilates was created by a man called Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. It is a strengthening and conditioning practise that can be done on a mat or with the assistance of machines. Yoga, gymnastics and martial arts may have been an influence on Pilates. Pilates has an emphasis on understanding and controlling the body and was used mostly by professional dancers for years. In the 1990s new research into back pain emerged, and Pilates started being used alongside physiotherapy to prevent and treat back pain.
Because of its focus on body awareness and control, Pilates is a great option for people who want to improve sports performance, prevent injury, and reduce tension in unwanted areas of the body. Although not a spiritual practise, a good Pilates class requires a lot of concentration, which provides the benefits of mindfulness.
I hope that provided some guidance as to the differences between the practices. Your experience of Pilates and yoga may vary between styles and instructors, and one movement form might feel better for your body. For healthy bodies looking for flexibility, mindfulness and strength, both yoga and Pilates are great options. If you’ve had an injury or experience back pain your physiotherapist or osteopath is more likely to prescribe Pilates.