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What’s the difference between Yoga and Pilates?

These days, the words “YOGA” and “PILATES” are often used nearly interchangeably. Yoga studios in the United States often offer Pilates classes, while places where Pilates is practiced often include yoga as well.

However, Pilates and yoga are quite different, both in terms of their history, as well as in their practice.

They are alike in the sense that they are both used to exercise the mind and the body, in order to help their practitioners reach an optimum level of physical and mental health.

Here’s a look at the differences and the similarities between these two popular disciplines.


Pilates is a system of exercise developed by a Greek gymnast born in Germany, Joseph Pilates.

Originally, Pilates designed his exercises to help injured veterans returning home after World War I. His exercises were intended to help the soldiers regain their health by stretching, strengthening, and stabilizing key muscles.

Joseph Pilates believed that the central muscles of the body – the muscles of the lower back, abdomen, hips, and buttocks – were the most important. He called these muscles “the Powerhouse”, although modern instructors usually refer to them as “the Core”. His belief was that focusing on the development of these muscles would lead the body to move with an efficiency, grace, and balance that was not achievable through other exercise programs.

Furthermore, by strengthening these core muscles, he believed other types of physical injuries could be prevented.

Pilates also emphasized breathing and concentration, believing that physical health and the breath were intimately interconnected. Eventually, through intense concentration and controlled breathing, the Pilates system leads practitioners to a naturally flexible, healthy, and graceful body.


yogaThe word “yoga” is a generic word that today is used to refer to a number of stretching and fitness techniques that originated in ancient India.

Many styles of yoga are practiced today, from more recent inventions such as Bikram (“hot”) yoga and Iyengar yoga, to more traditional forms of yoga like Hatha yoga.

In its early history, yoga was less of a physical discipline than a mental and physical discipline.

Yoga as we know it today originates in 15th century India, when Yogi Swatmarama created Hatha yoga. Yogi Swatmarama believed he could purify the mind through the vehicle of purifying the body. He was the first yogi to emphasize the physical postures of yoga as a way of reaching higher spiritual states.

Today, of course, much of yoga’s Hindu spiritual teachings have disappeared in favor of exercise-based yoga. However, many yoga instructors still teach small amounts of meditation as part of yoga.

Both Yoga and Pilates are useful methods to achieve a higher state of physical fitness. Yoga still retains a more spiritual, ancient feeling to it, while Pilates is more practical, and was never designed to lead to higher spiritual states.

Which methodology is better for you, then, simply depends upon what you are looking for.

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