23 July 2009

Yoga or Pilates?

Many people often ask me what the difference is between yoga and pilates and if there is point practising one if they already practice the other.

What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice and can be traced back more than 5000 years to India. The word yoga means “to yoke”; a union of mind, body and spirit, making it a spiritual tradition. Yoga aims to purify the mind and body, and the Eight Limb Path practiced in some yoga traditions offers ethical principals to follow. By following this path, it is said one can transcend the ego and awaken the spirtual energy hidden within, revealing our highest capabilities.

The physical practice of yoga poses (asanas) is what many people in the West are attracted to initially. The physical effects (toning, lengthening and strengthening of the body) and the feelings of well-being brought about by practising yoga is what can often be the start of a yogic journey… A journey within.

What is Pilates?
Pilates is a much newer practice in comparison to yoga. Joesph Pilates created this system in the early 20th century in order to assist his recovery from injury and poor health. He used his knowledge of the physical body to create a system based very much on the core (abdominal and back muscles), incorporating breathing techniques while performing exercises. Controlled repetitive actions are performed to tone and strengthen the body. Posture and alignment are improved and a feeling of well-being and bodily awareness is created.

There is a big cross over in terms of the physical practice of these two disciplines. Many of the poses performed in pilates come directly from yoga. The core strength used in Pilates is also present in yoga. The ancient yoga practice of Moola Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha (root lock and upward flying lock) esentially strengthen and lift the pelvic and abdominal area, toning the perineum and the transverse abdominals.

Should I practice both?
As mentioned above, there are a lot of similarities between yoga and pilates. It is now quite common to find classes using a fusion of the two, therefore – in some ways – allowing you the best of both worlds. Not all yoga teachers will teach core strength (Moola Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha) in their classes . Students of BKS Iyengar do not mention these words, but do activate abdominal muscles while practising yoga. Concentrating purely on this area in pilates can be of real benefit to your yoga.

I think you can combine the two disciplines. Yoga - unlike pilates - has its foundation in a (non-religious) spiritual practice, which ultimately could determine the path one is drawn to. Those looking for spiritual enlightenment will be attracted to the study of yoga and its ancient traditions; whereas those looking to strengthen and tone the body whilst using breathing techniques will be drawn to Pilates... The choice is, as they say, yours!

Cherie Lathey (yoga mama) - yoga teacher and advanced personal trainer


  1. I teach a Yoga/Pilates class - and in my personal fitness regime, I do both.

    For me, yoga helps me center and ground myself - along with the physical benefits. Whereas Pilates is strictly "exercise".

  2. I agree with Jenn as far as the mind/body workout goes I prefer Yoga.

    Also, I have had problems achieving the correct alignment in Pilates when using the machines just because of the quirks in my own body. For instance, I have a really hard time staying in parallel with my feet together because I am slightly knock-kneed...so I feel that yoga is more accepting of all bodies, making sure that everyone no matter how they are shaped, can reap benefits ;)


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