Before I started practicing yoga regularly at a studio I may have dabbled in the occasional mat Pilates and ‘yoga’ class at my local gym. To be honest I had no idea what I was doing 95% of the time and I felt they were both interchangeable with an occasional spin class!
While that was over a decade ago now, I still remember the days when I couldn’t have told you what made Pilates any different from yoga. It’s a question that I am still asked on a regular basis today by those who know they want to start SOMETHING that stretches their body and strengthens their core (or maybe just helps them to chill out!). With many studios, gyms and fitness centres offering both it’s easy to get confused! So, here’s our Stretch-style simple guide to the differences between the practices:
Scientist, anatomist, exercise lover and mechanical genius Joseph Pilates became enamoured with exercise from a young age. In 1912 he moved to England to train self-defence for Scotland Yard and when war broke out, he was kept as an ‘enemy alien’ and used his time to refine his own system of exercise. By rigging springs to hospital beds he enabled bedridden patients to exercise against resistance – this later became the basis of Pilates and a variety of equipment that he referred to as “apparatus”- the best known of which is now the reformer. It started as a form of rehabilitation, was notice by ballerinas and became a hybrid of the two - a little rehab, a little exercise and a lot of focus on strengthening muscles that need to be strengthened, while lengthening muscles that are a little too tight.
Yoga on the other hand has a less clear history having evolved over the last two centuries. There is no consensus on its time line or specific origin other than that yoga developed in ancient India and has continued to grow and evolve since. Yoga was brought to the West in the mid-19th century and has continued to grow in popularity - most notably in the last decade. There are ancient texts, different lineages and modern styles - but all with a grounding in this rich philosophical system.
There’s a good reason why people get confused as these two practices share a tonne of commonalities! Both move the body in similar ways – building strength and endurance as well as increasing flexibility and providing stress relief. Both can use props – whether that’s straps, blocks and bolsters in yoga or reformers, balls, bands and other contraptions in Pilates. Both have an emphasis on breathing (and linking movement with breath), as well as concentration and focus. And both are practiced by hot girls on Instagram... (ok ok… that last one was a joke!).
It’s little surprise then to find out that old Joseph P studied yoga, and his writing on his system indicates that it was his intention to unify ‘mind, body and spirit’ – something that we often hear talked about in yoga. Clearly he was heavily influenced!
While it’s easy to spot the similarities, it takes a lot more knowledge to understand the differences. While Pilates is a fantastic form of exercise and rehab (check out when you'll find Pilates classes at Stretch here), yoga is actually a spiritual practice and has much less of a focus on the ‘poses’ (known as asana) than we tend to realise in the West.
Yoga is a complete spiritual philosophy and practice with a tonne of amazing theory and some pretty rad ancient scriptures underpinning it. Not only is it a complete health system designed to keep your body, mind and spirit healthy, but it also provides us with an amazing guide of how to live our lives in a more compassionate, happy and peaceful way!
While it’s more than we have the time for here today, coming to regular classes will start to introduce you to more yogic concepts like the Eight Limbs of Yoga and the different styles of meditation that exist. If you’re curious, we highly recommend checking out our 6 Week Beginners Course or 6 Week Yoga Philosophy Course where we go into MUCH more detail about this kind of stuff! You can also always grab a Stretch teacher (those guys seriously know their stuff!) and ask as many questions as your heart desires – that’s what we’re here for!
Bonus fun fact - the occasional Pilates class is the PERFECT compliment to yoga as its helps to address imbalances in the body, as well as helping to build strength in smaller muscles which can help to unlock some amazing stuff in our yoga flows! Give both a try and see for yourself :)