Yoga vs Pilates - What's the Difference?

With Bumblebee Yoga adding Mat Pilates to our classes in 2022, we've had lots of questions about the difference between Yoga and Pilates!


There are a lot of similarities between the practices, but also a lot of important differences. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion, and is very much based on the classes we teach here! Different teachers and styles of both practices will bring different elements to each class, which is one of the beautiful things about movement practices.


We'll go into some of the aspects in-depth, but here's a quick summary:


  • Both Yoga and Pilates are low impact and full body practices that can be suitable for all ages, abilities, and types of people! Both have lots of options for varying the load, intensity, or depth of the movements to suit your body

  • Yoga is a spiritual mind-body practice (one aspect of which is physical poses), whereas Pilates is really focused on the physical body, which orients it more towards fitness

  • Both Yoga Asana (poses) and Pilates have a mix of strengthening and mobility. Yoga classes usually tip more towards mobility and flexibility with flows or long hold poses, whereas Pilates has a focus on strength and conditioning with dynamic and repetitive movement to tire out the muscles

  • Honestly from a class perspective, Yoga and Pilates classes just have a different vibe. Pilates classes tend to be a little more upbeat and higher energy, whereas Yoga is usually a little bit more chill, with spaces for quiet and stillness (but still plenty of opportunities for giggles and personality!)






Yoga and Pilates 101


Let's look a little more in-depth at each of the practices and what you might expect to find in a class:



Above all else, Yoga is a spiritual practice, and physical poses are only a small part of yoga as a whole. That means that as well as moving our bodies into Asana (poses), we're also tapping into our mindfulness practice to become more aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations, which provides a more holistic approach to wellbeing.

There are many lineages and types of Yoga, with a huge variety in how the practice is done, including everything from vigorous Vinyasa flows, to slow and meditative Yin sessions, with lots in between. In Bumblebee Yoga classes, we hone in on gentle Hatha Yoga movements that focus on mobility, flexibility, and strength, as well as mindfulness practices like self-compassion and breath awareness. We support you find the right level of physical challenge, depending on what you want out of the class. We might also use some props to support the poses in various ways (we have a whole blog series on props!)


In Pilates, each exercise targets a different muscle group, usually by stabilising one body part (keeping it still) and controlling your muscles to mobilise (move) another part. Each class will generally have a mix of exercises that will strengthen and mobilise your whole body, and will often tap into functional movement (i.e., strengthening in a way to support specific day-to-day movements). We try to move in different planes of motion, like forwards and backwards, side to side, and twisting, and usually there's a mix of exercises on your back, tummy, sides, knees, and standing. All of the exercises have layers, so you can add or reduce load to adjust to your needs.

There are a few different types of Pilates. You might have seen big contraptions called Reformer machines that are particularly popular right now. At Bumblebee Yoga, we do Mat Pilates, which just uses your body weight and occasionally some small props or equipment.



History


Yoga is an ancient practice that involves physical poses (asana), breathing (pranayama), meditation, self-exploration, and ethical living (Yamas and Niyamas), as well as spiritual and devotional traditions. There are many different types of yoga offered these days, ranging from intense physical practices to deep spiritual experiences, with lots in-between. Modern Yoga practice has been heavily colonised and whitewashed, which means that often the traditional teachings of Yoga become diluted or lost.


Pilates is a newer form of exercise that comes from physical therapy and rehabilitation. Pilates was developed by a guy named Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, and originally called it Contrology, or the art of controlled movements. It has since gone on to be renamed after its inventor and has become a widespread and highly evidence-based practice (we love science-supported movement here!).



Movements


Yoga and Pilates do share some movements, but just to confuse you, we sometimes call them different things! Both practices have a rough set of traditional core poses or exercises that have been expanded on and developed over time with variations, creativity, and movement science. As you get to know the practices, you'll pick up on the different alignments and variations between the poses and exercises, and your teacher is always there to guide you and answer any questions!


In both practices, you'll find poses or exercises on your back (supine), front/belly (prone), hands and knees/feet, seated, and standing. In general, we want to get our bodies into all different shapes and orientations that we might not get to do in our day-to-day lives.


In terms of pace and dynamics, Pilates tends to be more focused on controlled repetition of a movement to fatigue (tire out) and strengthen the muscles, but in Yoga, you might flow through a series of movements, or hold one pose for an extended period of time to lengthen the muscles.



Key Differences


While Yoga and Pilates have lots in common, there are definitely some differences.

In the picture below, you can see where Yoga and Pilates sit on a few different spectrums. Again, keep in mind that this is based mostly on our styles of practice! There can certainly be Yoga classes that are faster and more dynamic than a Pilates class, and likewise you might have a Pilates class that is more focused on mobility in your big muscles. This is just to give you a picture of the general focus of each of the practices


  • Yoga and Pilates both focus on strength and mobility, but Yoga tends to lean more towards mobility and flexibility, while Pilates has a focus on strength

  • Pilates tends to be repetition-based, where Yoga might flow between movements and hold poses for longer

  • Because of these styles, Yoga tends to target big muscle groups (like quads, hamstrings, shoulders, etc.), and Pilates will get more into those smaller muscles (like hips and glutes, deep core muscles, and small stabilisers), but again, both practices will work muscles all across the body

  • Because of the dynamic pace and the focus on strength, Pilates is usually a more intense physical practice than Yoga, but that doesn't mean you can't have intense and dynamic Yoga sessions! And don't let the term "intensity" scare you off, we always make sure that your level of intensity is unique to you and what you're looking for in a practice!




Benefits


Both Yoga and Pilates have a tonne of scientific research behind them, showing the myriad of benefits of regular practice. Mindful movement has been shown to be fantastic for mental and emotional health, stress management, and overall wellbeing. Both Yoga and Pilates can reduce blood pressure, build postural and muscular strength, and improve body awareness, coordination, and balance.

Pilates is particularly good at strengthening your core, balancing muscular control across your body, and preventing musculoskeletal injuries, whereas Yoga excels at increasing your range of motion, improving circulation, and reducing lower back pain. As well as the health benefits, our students also say that they enjoy coming along to a class and being a part of a community that is fun, accepting and welcoming!



Which One Should I Do?


While there is lots of cross-over between Yoga and Pilates, they are both independent of each other and give us different benefits.

If you're looking for a practice to support your mental health and overall wellbeing, Yoga is going to be a more holistic and supportive practice. If you're looking to prevent or rehab injuries and work on functional movement in your body, Pilates is a fantastic way to do that.


You may call me biased, but I would honestly say that you should do both! I think they complement each other beautifully and can teach you about your body in different ways. I love having variety in my movement practice, and your body thrives on new and novel practices.


​The best way to understand the nuances of both practices is by giving them a go! Come join us for both on Thursday nights in Clovelly Park - Bookings Here!


 


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