What’s The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

Let’s unpack the differences between Yoga and Pilates.

My Yoga and Pilates Journey

Anna Sheinman performing yoga tree pose with Pilates precision (diff. between Yoga & Pilates)

  • In 2002, I took my first yoga class in New York City.  Over the next few decades, I’ve practiced Jivamukti, Mysore, and Iyengar.  I dedicated at least one year to each discipline.  Also, I’ve tried hot, acro, partner, and aerial yoga styles.
  • In 2007, I fell in love with Krishnamacharya Viniyoga.  In 2008, I got into the five-year teacher training program (800+RYT hours).  Over the course of a decade or two, I’ve studied anatomy, philosophy, breathing, ancient text, and other workings of the mind.
  • In 2008, I started teaching yoga.  Currently, I have my daily practice and continue my education with my teacher, Chase Bossart.
  • In 2013, I taught yoga at a couple of New York City Pilates studios.  At first, the Pilates equipment looked like a torture chamber.  But, I soon took my first private Pilates class and fell in love with Ellie Herman Pilates studio.
  • In 2013, I took Pilates Mat I and II, Springboard, Cadillac, arc and barrels, and basic reformer teacher training at Ellie Herman Pilates.
  • In 2022, I re-took my Pilates certification with our local superstar Pilates teacher and a body-whisperer, Pamela Harrington, in Nederland, Colorado.
  • Currently, I am teaching yoga and Pilates classes and workshops online, in the studio and one of my favorite places – a top of the mountain.
  • Nowadays, I keep taking private and group classes with our

Pilates In a Nutshell

Part scientist, part mechanical genius, and anatomist Joseph Pilates was originally a gymnast and bodybuilder.  He earned a living as a professional boxer, circus performer, and self-defense trainer at police schools in England around 1912.  The British authorities interned him during World War I in an internment campLater, Joseph Pilates was transferred to the Isle of Man, where he developed his concept of an integrated, comprehensive system of physical exercise.  He called this system “Contrology.” In addition, Joseph studied yoga and animal movements.  After World War I, Joseph Pilates returned to Germany, collaborating with dance and physical exercise experts.  Joseph Pilates emigrated to the United States around 1925, where he met his future wife, Clara.  The couple started teaching in their newly founded studio in New York.  They taught in the studio into the 1960s.  Joseph and Clara Pilates soon established a devoted following in the local dance and movement.  They had a loyal following in the local New York dance and performing arts community.  George Balanchine and Martha Graham became Pilate’s students.  Joseph Pilates died in 1967 at the age of 83 in New York.

Principles of Pilates:

There are many variations from the “classical” Pilates.  As our lifestyle evolves, so is the method.

(1) Breath is the most essential in life and for life!  Similar to many other disciplines, breath plays a key role in Pilates.  Firstly, breath is the fuel of the powerhouse, the engine that drives the moment.  Secondly, breath controls the flow as it sews the body, mind, and spirit.  Finally, breath is one of the keys to life itself, with the respiratory muscles being the only skeletal muscles that are essential to life.  The breathing topic is enormous, and we’ll talk about breathing techniques later.

(2) Concentration is a direction of attention.  Once we are on the mat, we need to focus on the body, breath, and movement entirely.  When we start our Pilates class, we set the intention to perform each movement or a flow based on our current skill level.  We always begin where we are, concentrating on the proper alignment and maintaining this alignment throughout the practice of Pilates.

(3)  Center is generally viewed as the core of the body.

In the field of biomechanics, the center relates to the body’s center of gravity (COG) also referred to as the center of mass. This is an imaginary point of balance where the body’s weight is assumed to be concentrated and equally balanced and around which the body may rotate freely in all directions. Each person is built differently and has an individual center of gravity. When standing upright with the arms down by the sided (anatomical position), the center of gravity of the average person is located just in from of the second sacral vertebra and at about 55 percent of the person’s height. The location might be higher in men. Not to mention the various body types, limb proportion, and muscle mass. The center of gravity constantly changes depending on the position of the exercise. For instance, when we stand with our arms up, the center of gravity goes up. Consequently, the center goes down if we were to bend our knees.  Pilates Anatomy.

(4) Control is about the performance of the exercise.  Pilates is not about how many reps we can do, instead, how we can use strength and flexibility to master a movement.  Control gives us the aesthetically pleasing view of the movement that might seem effortless without any tension.  As we progress in our journey, we can control movements and complete them precisely.  This is essential because we can achieve greater mobility, strength, flexibility, self-awareness.

(5) Precision is how we perform a given exercise.  First, we need to understand anatomy (which muscles are on and which ones are off).  Then, we can align the body based on the goals of the exercise and our individual goals.  Precision is the key to the pilates approach to movement.

(6) Flow – like all the other principles of Pilates, flow can be viewed as a principle of Pilates or life itself.  As one of my favorite authors, Steven Kotler defined flow:
Flow is an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” It’s also a strange state of consciousness.  In flow, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else falls away.  Action and awareness merge.  Our sense of self and our sense of self-consciousness disappear entirely.  Time dilates, meaning it slows down (like the freeze-frame of a car crash) or speeds up (and five hours pass by in five minutes).  And throughout, all aspects of performance are incredibly heightened, including creative performance.

So, flow is something we can strive for in our pilates practice.  When we set our intention to be present and pay attention to each movement and transition based on our current skill level, we can let go and be fully present.

 

Yoga in Nutshell

There is not a single person to blame for yoga.  Some scholars found evidence of early Yogic practice in the archeological artifacts from the Indus Valley civilization (2500 BCE).  However, textual evidence of yoga practice emerges much later.  The first occurrence of the word “yoga” is in the Katha Upanishad.  

Statue of Shiva (Yoga in a nutshell vs Pilates)

The much later Maitri Upanisad describes a six-fold yoga practice: (1) breath control (pranayama), (2) withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), (3) meditation (dhyana), (4) concentration (Dharana), (5) philosophical inquiry (Tarka), (6) absorption (samadhi).  Patanjali (250 CE?) used the same elements except for inquiry (Tarka) to outline the eight limbs of Patanjali Ashtanga yoga.  Additionally, Bhagavad Gita talks about three paths of yoga: (1) the path of action (karma yoga), (2) the path of devotion (bhakti yoga), and the path of knowledge (jnana yoga).  Yoga is a part of six worldviews.  Yoga is a part of six darśanas (philosophies, worldviews, teachings): Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and VedantaThe goal of yoga is to bring the mind into a state of equanimity.  Well-rounded yoga practice consists of physical movement (asana), breathing (pranayama), and meditation.

Modern Yoga.

Dr. Mark Singleton (Ph.D. at Cambridge’s) writes about the roots of contemporary yoga in his book: Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.  He outlines the transformation from 19th century philosophical and anti-postural yoga into an exclusively physical movement practice during the first half of the 20th century.

 

Yogi in india

Indian yogis were called the “supernatural power brokers of medieval India” and “ascetic trade soldiers.” They were able to make or break kings.  Later, it caused issues for the British government.  The government didn’t love it and persecuted rebel yogis, forcing them into panhandling and entertainer statuses.  As a result, these yogis were called outlaws and were forced into a new status of the black magicians, fakirs, and clowns under British rule.

As a result, the yoga discipline took an entire philosophical approach rejecting the physical movement (1901).

Scandinavian Gymnastics.

 

SOFLY What's The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

Later, with the industrial revolution, Western influence, and Indian independence, yoga became confused with physical education and gymnastics (1928 to 1971).

Dr. Mark Singleton noted how the Western physical culture (which gained popularity in India under British colonial rule) influenced the yoga movement.  It includes the Scandinavian gymnastics systems inspired by P.H. Ling (1776-1839) and European and American bodybuilding regimes led by Eugen Sandow (1867-1925) and the physical education programs of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  Moreover, modern yoga was decisively shaped by Hindu nationalist aspirations for a uniquely Indian form of exercise in response to British rule.

Not to mention, modern yoga was shaped by Indian people resisting British occupation:

From the 15th century until the early decades of the 19th century, highly organized bands of militarized yogis controlled trade routes across Northern India, becoming so powerful in the eighteenth century as to be able to challenge the economic and political hegemony of East India Company [Dr. Mark Singleton in the Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice; p.39]

Modern postural (asana) practice emerged about physical culture and gymnastics and was packaged and sold to the west as the purest expression of Indian physical culture (1920).

T. Krishnamacharya (The Father Of The Modern Yoga)

T. Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) is often called the father of modern yoga.  He trained Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. Both of his students popularize postural yoga in the west.  Krishnamacharya teaching spans nearly seven decades.  He elaborated a system including a postural practice, joined by linking sequences, breathwork, chanting, and meditative practices.

My education is based on the teachings of the legendary yogi.  My primary teacher Chase Bossart studies with the master himself and with his son, Mr. Desikachar.

Yoga and Pilates At a Glance

SOFLY What's The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

Class Flow

Both Pilates and Yoga are very similar when it comes to physical discipline.  Also, when our mind is super focused in Pilates class, it becomes a meditative flow.  In yoga, a teacher should never teach a group class without a plan and should be able to change it based on the student’s needs and abilities.  Each class should include a “crown-pose,” counterpose (opposition) preparations, and cooldown.  The breathing dictates the movement and the flow.  Each class has a theme and includes a focused meditation practice.  In Pilates, each class should include nine principles of Pilates.  Just like in Yoga, a good Pilates teacher knows how to teach a good sequence, including warm-up, “pick-pose,” counter-poses (opposition), and cooldown.  Some poses can be done statically (hold) or dynamically with a flow in both disciplines.  The Pilates classes are classified as beginner, lever one, to level four.  A good Pilates teacher adjusts the flow’s structure, intensity, and dynamics.  Yoga classes can be grouped into beginner, intermediate and advanced.  In yoga, classes are usually classified by postural challenges.  Many Yoga and Pilates classes are hyper-focused on adding as many things as possible into a class.  Unfortunately, this leaves a student exhausted and can potentially lead to injuries, which is counterintuitive, the goal of yoga.  Similarly, the goal in Pilates is to cultivate a healthy and robust body using the mind and the breath.  

Mentorship

In our yoga tradition, a teacher must have a mentor.  Similarly, a good Pilates teacher continues their education and has a teacher.  A good Yoga or Pilates teacher must have daily personal practice, understanding of anatomy, flow sequencing, and workings of the mind.

Personal Attention

  • sofly What's The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?The individual Yoga practice considers the student’s ability, space, time, and enthusiasm for practice.
  • The key component is consistency.  Private classes and home practice is the key to achieving the goal of yoga.
  • Most Pilates studios will not let you take a group class unless you have some private sessions. 

Philosophy

In addition to postural practice, yoga incorporates meditation and self-study.  Postural-only practice doesn’t qualify as yoga.  Pilates is a postural-only discipline.  However, we can bring our minds to the state of attention during the Pilates session.   Both Yoga and Pilates disciplines help us understand how the mind and body are connected.  Yoga adds more layers. 

Breathing

  • In yoga and Pilates, we stay connected to the breath.  The breathing patterns in both Yoga and Pilates can be different.  In both practices, breath controls the flow.
  • In yoga, mostly nasal breathing (ujjayi) is used.  However, there are many different variations.  We use breathing to achieve a special effect on the mind.  For instance, longer exhalation promotes relaxation.
  • In many cases, longer inhalation creates a more alert state of mind or “flight-or-fight” response.  Also, we use holds and other more complex breathing techniques.
  • While in Pilates, we typically inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.  However, lately, I’ve been training all my students only to use nasal breathing.

Equipment

SOFLY What's The Difference Between Yoga and Pilates?

  • In both Yoga and Pilates, we can use the equipment.
  • We can do yoga and Pilates mat with just a towel.  But, at the same time, Iyengar yoga is very heavy with props and specific equipment.
  • Similarly, the Pilates reformer, arch, and Cadillac can be a great aid.
  • In both cases, the equipment supports making exercises easier or adding resistance and challenge.
  • In my opinion, the Pilates equipment wins.

The Perfect Combo

For me, Yoga and Pilates is a perfect combo.  The key is to find a good teacher and commit to the practice.  I would highly recommend doing research, taking private lessons, and experimenting with both.  Group Yoga and Pilates classes are a fun way to connect with our fellow students and enjoy the flow.  But, the real magic happens during my personal home practice.  Pilates and yoga are disciplined require time, dedication, and consistency.

Here are elements of Pilates in a nutshell.  You can see that each principle can be applied to our pilates practice and will translate into our life.  We can use Pilates to get stronger, more flexible, be in the flow, and cultivate body, mind, and spiritual awareness.

And of course, if you are ready for your transformation with yoga and Pilates, get a 3-day SOFLY reboot today!

 

Please share your experience with Yoga and Pilates in the comment field below.

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