I have always thought of the combination of Pilates and Yoga as the perfect marriage.
Both are transformational, focused methods of movement that literally help you to “meet” yourself, to discover your capabilities and facilitate positive change in the body, mind and spirit. In my opinion, their differences complement one another in the best of ways. While Yoga is better known for its philosophical and spiritual components, Pilates also inspires spiritual evolution, but this aspect is not emphasized as much as the physical component; Pilates is known as a “workout,” and Yoga as a “practice,” however, the irony here, is that in order to get good at anything, we have to practice, and done correctly, both Pilates and Yoga are both a workout and a practice. And as you will see, both are worthy of your time and attention for innumerable reasons.


Here’s a cool, little-known fact for many of you out there: Joseph H. Pilates, who invented the Pilates Method, studied yoga and most of the exercises you’ll see in a Pilates workout are inspired by yoga. The poses in yoga are incredibly similar to the shapes and positions of the body in Pilates exercises; the difference is that in yoga, one holds poses longer, and in Pilates, you move at a slightly faster pace. Rather than holding a pose longer the way you would in a yoga class, staying in one position and cajoling the body into stretching more deeply through the breath, in Pilates, the practitioner dynamically extends as far as possible into a greater range of motion within a limited amount of time using self-imposed isometric resistance, core awareness and breath.

Both Pilates and yoga are intended to cultivate greater awareness and connection between the body and the mind, which in turn, enlivens the spirit.
Both help us to focus on the process, the “journey” of moving, breathing and stretching, rather than the end goal, which can be anything from a stronger, well-toned body to peace of mind.
Both encourage you to focus on the present moment and the movement itself rather than the outcome; they are each regimes that promote consciousness, evolution and self-transformation, while helping you to accrue innumerable health benefits that arise from the specific combination of connecting conscious breath to movement.

The subtle magic of Pilates and Yoga is that the work grows as you do. You rise to higher levels of challenge as your self-awareness and experience deepen. As you gain insight and as your actual physical strength increases, the work refines and redefines itself.
Both are refreshing approaches that see our physical activity as a way to restore total oneness with ourselves and create harmony with our body, mind and spirit, and under this notion, exercise becomes the means to experiencing a personal potential greater than the physical skills themselves.



“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness. Our interpretation of physical fitness is the attainment and maintenance of a uniformly developed body with a sound mind, fully capable of naturally and efficiently performing daily tasks with spontaneous zest and ease” should be the objective for people of all ages and fitness levels.”

Born near Dusseldorf, Germany in 1880, Joseph Pilates had his challenges as a child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. His determination to heal led to his study of Eastern and Western forms of exercise, including yoga and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was fourteen, Pilates had worked so hard that he was quickly becoming a veritable renaissance man of exercise. Accomplished as a wrestler, diver, skier and a gymnast, he was even asked to pose as a model for anatomical charts. When World War I broke out, he was interned for a year in England, and while in the camp, he taught his fellow internees the physical fitness program he had developed, boasting that they would emerge stronger than they were before imprisonment. Those who followed his program resisted the influenza epidemic that killed thousands. Always curious and compassionate, after encountering soldiers who were disabled as a result of wartime injuries, he began devising machines using the springs from old hospital beds to facilitate their rehabilitation. These machines were the very prototypes of the specialized equipment that is used in Pilates studios today, which utilize pulleys and springs as weight resistance to build strength and increase overall flexibility in the spine and limbs. Pilates “apparatus,” which includes the “Reformer,” “Cadillac, or Trapeze Table,” “Wunda Chair,” and “Barrels,” are all used to stretch and strengthen every muscle group, resulting in a body that is uniformly sculpted, powerful and bio-mechanically efficient.


Pilates fittingly called his method “Contrology,” (the study of control) and believed that it would help people to develop the strength and fortitude in body and mind, not only to accomplish daily mundane tasks with ease, but to live life to the fullest.

“Contrology is complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit. Through Contrology you first purposefully acquire complete control of your own body and then through proper repetition of exercises you progressively acquire that natural rhythm and coordination associated with all your subconscious activities. It develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit.”
~Joseph Pilates

Often called “moving meditation,” because of the incredible focus of mind on the body, Pilates is a non-impact system of physical and mental conditioning that emphasizes alignment and increasing awareness of the body’s capabilities and untapped resources. Pilates changes bodies, and quickly, sculpting muscles and making them longer, and leaner. It creates unmatched core strength, and optimal posture. It helps to improve breathing and increases efficiency of movement. The focus is on the “powerhouse,” or the stabilizing muscles of the torso, which support the spine. True for exercises performed both on the mat and the machines, every movement one does in a Pilates workout emanates from the core, keeping practitioners “honest,” by gently forcing them to use both sides of the body symmetrically. In order to successfully initiate and achieve a movement, both sides have to participate equally, giving the dominant, overused muscles a break, and demanding that the “weaker” underutilized muscles have an opportunity to participate, hence, literally balancing the body.

Pilates is based on six principles which enable you to learn to move with maximum efficiency while minimizing stress on the body. You access a deeper, more complete feeling of fitness, energy and vitality that remains with you days after your workout:

1. Centering: The strengthening of the “Powerhouse,” the “corset muscles” of the body, which include the primary muscles of the abdominals, pelvis, buttocks and back.
2. Concentration: Bringing one’s full attention to the form and execution of each exercise.
3. Control: Engaging the mind to unite with the body in “the economy of movement;” learning to use only the muscles necessary to perform a task, while the rest of the body relaxes.
4. Precision: Employing the notion that every movement has a purpose, resulting in a “less is more,” and “quality over quantity” philosophy. When a movement is performed well a few times, there is no need to do more.
5. Breath: The most important aspect of Pilates along with movement; exercises are done in tandem with the breath, resulting in enhanced lung capacity and overall coordination, not only in the workout, but in life.
6. Flow: Every movement in a Pilates exercise is performed with the grace and ease of a dancer; the result? A long, lean, dancer’s body!


Because Pilates is gentle and challenging at the same time, it is safe and effective for everyone, irrespective of age or fitness ability, from expectant mothers to the super-fit. It is also a phenomenal cross-training tool, helping you to maximize the sports and activities you love the most. Many professional athletes turn to Pilates when they want to bring their best, and the world-renowned “Cirque du Soleil” regularly trains on the Pilates apparatus to perform their awe-inspiring feats.

The medical community recognizes Pilates as a peerless modality assisting in physical therapy. Pilates work is often incorporated into conventional therapy to facilitate healing and protect clients from future injury. It’s so beneficial, in fact, that many people continue with a Pilates regime long after they have healed from their injuries. Pilates also offers tremendous benefit and relief for people who suffer from chronic conditions, such as asthma, and arthritis. Because every exercise involves deep, diaphragmatic breathing, Pilates aids specifically in opening the lungs, helping shallow breathers learn how to breathe properly and build respiratory stamina. Pilates enhances circulatory function and builds the muscles that surround the joints, providing a new support, and simultaneously lubricating the joints, helping to reduce inflammation, which leads to arthritis. Finally, through the development of a stronger core, and emphasis of neutral spinal alignment, Pilates helps people to correct postural imbalances, prevent and heal chronic back pain, and improve overall spine health.

“In 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 sessions you will see the difference, and in 30 you will have a new body.”~Joseph Pilates



“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
~Amit Ray

Yoga means “to yoke, or to conjoin,” a method of merging the self with the divine. It is the the union of will with spirituality and one of the longest surviving philosophical systems in the world. It is a holistic practice deeply rooted in ancient Indian culture that unites the mind, body and spirit through movement, breathing techniques and meditation.

Yoga’s exact origin and history is uncertain; however, we do know that it is thousands of years old, the earliest signs of yoga postures having appeared as drawings on artifacts dating back to 3000 B.C. Yoga was introduced in the West during the early 19th century where it began as a movement for health and vegetarianism, and by the 1960’s, there was an influx of Indian teachers who expounded on Yoga and are responsible for the myriad styles we have available to us today. One of them was Maharishi Mahesh, the Yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation, and a fun fact: was a favorite spiritual advisor to The Beatles! Another Yogi was Swami Sivananda, a doctor in Malaysia, most well known for codifying the “Five Principles of Yoga” which are now taught in yoga classes all over the world and facilitate strength, balance, flexibility, anti-aging and the curing of illness and disease:

1. Asanas, proper exercise
2. Pranayama, correct breathing
3. Saucha, Proper diet, eating nourishing foods
4. Dhyana, positive thinking and meditation
5. Savasana, complete relaxation

The major thrust of the yogic philosophy is a spiritual one, and the practice that we all know today, is actually a means to move energy through the body in such a way that the student is left feeling calm enough to sit in meditation after the practice. Here one attempts to master the “monkey mind,” finding the stillness that leads to self-awareness and ultimately transcendence of ego and the thinking, judging mind.

On the physical level, yoga postures, called asanas, are designed to tone, strengthen, and align the body, increase spinal flexibility, and promote blood flow to all the organs, glands, and tissues, keeping all the body’s systems healthy and balanced. Sun salutations, Warrior Poses, Standing balances, Seated forward bends, Twists, Backbends, Inversions and Savasana are all standard poses that you will see in any yoga class, regardless of the style, and every practice generally follows this progression from standing to seated poses. Yes, the goal of yoga is spiritual union and improved health, but make no mistake, it is quite a workout too. Every muscle gets stretched, strengthened and challenged.

On the mental level, breathing techniques used throughout the practice and the seated meditation which follows the active asana practice quiet, clarify, and discipline the mind.
The yoga philosophy believes the breath to be the most important facet of health, because it is the largest source of prana, or life force we have available to us, and when we learn to harness it, anything is possible. Hatha yoga, the primary influence in modern yoga, utilizes pranayama, which literally means the science or control of breathing to help the practitioner quiet the mind, embrace the present moment and manifest health and healing.

Yoga devotees speak about the practice as a way of aligning with their highest self. Achieving proper alignment in the yoga postures, and moving into greater ranges of motion while staying connected to the breath, challenges one’s comfort level, and is what leads to transformation from the inside out; the practitioner cultivates patience, and gains physical strength and flexibility, which translates as strength and flexibility in the mind and in the outside world. Through pranayama, one clears the mind, and balances internal organ systems, resulting in improved health and stamina. Everything on the mat translates as a higher quality of life: greater reserves of energy, focus, reduced stress and the ability to meet the vicissitudes of life with greater aplomb and ease.


The Comparison:

So now that you are Pilates and Yoga experts and you’re familiar with the similarities between the two, it’s time to answer the question,

How are they different anyway?

  • Both Pilates and Yoga tone and condition the body by using the body’s own weight as a natural resistance tool, but Pilates has an additional aspect to its syllabus, and this is where the roads begin to diverge; While Yoga doesn’t incorporate machines, as we’ve already established, the “apparatus” aspect of Pilates does.
  • For a yoga practice, all you need is a sticky mat that provides traction for the hands and feet, as well as blocks and straps, which provide support to the the limbs if the body isn’t capable of going into full range of motion in a particular pose. For Pilates mat work, you need a mat, but one that is thicker, providing more cushioning for the spine, because some of the exercises in the Pilates syllabus involve rolling on the spine to increase blood flow to the surrounding postural muscles, and nerves.
  • On the purely physical plane, whereas Yoga concentrates mostly on increasing strength and flexibility of the spine and limbs, Pilates focuses on building abdominal strength first, and then symmetrical musculature as well as overall flexibility.
  • In Pilates, every movement emanates from the center, which is also our emotional core, and the exercises truly help to “center” you. In Yoga, it is the concentration on the breath, while rooting, deepening and persevering in a pose that helps to center the practitioner.
  • In Yoga, the primary goal, aside from ensuring proper alignment in the poses, is to stay connected to the breath; in Pilates, the first order of business is the precision of movement, and then, the coordination of movement with breath.
  • In yoga, the first emphasis is on spirituality, and in Pilates, movement rules the day, which then awakens and enlivens the spirit.
  • Both Pilates and Yoga improve circulation and highly oxygenate the system, which in turn, activates the lymphatic system and rids the body of toxins; however, in yoga, the term for this process is “tapas,” and in Pilates it’s called an “internal shower.”
  • Both techniques boost metabolism, which aids in weight loss, improved digestion, all of which results in a deep sense of well-being, which then leads to an enhanced ability to concentrate during work hours and to relax after a long day’s work, culminating in more restful sleep; however, Yoga achieves this with a slower pace, and Pilates with a more dynamic one.
  • The breathing patterns are different: In yoga, for the bulk of the asana practice, the breath is either Ujjayi, a smooth, heat-inducing breath that sounds like the ocean, or kapalabhati, “skull-shining breath,” rapid breathing, which creates greater internal heat to immediately clear the mind. In Pilates, there are two kinds of breath: one used for an exercise called “The Hundred,” which involves five short, staccato breaths in through the nose and five out through mouth, (which is based upon Kapalabhati, another example of yogic influence) and exercises that incorporate a variation of the Hundred breath, like the “single-leg pull,” which are rather dynamic and performed at a faster pace, two breaths in through the nose and two out through the nose or mouth. Then there’s the slow, smooth, controlled diaphragmatic breath, which is used for some of the slower, flowing movements, such as the “roll-up,” or “spine stretch forward.”
  • In yoga, most of the poses are done standing*, and work with gravity by rooting down into the earth in order to lengthen the body away from the floor and into various planes of movement, with the exception of arm balances and inversions, (standing on the head, or shoulder stand) where one tries to defy gravity; in Pilates, most of the exercises are performed lying down, either prone (on the stomach), supine (on the back), or side-lying and are aimed at defying gravity the entire time, engaging the “powerhouse,” the abdominal center in order to lift up from the ground to lengthen muscles.
  • *Note that in Yoga, there are a number of poses done on the floor as well, such as seated forward bends, twists, bow pose on the stomach, plow, etc., and in Pilates, there are also standing series, such as the Sculpting Series and Magic Circle.


What’s the best way to really learn how they’re different? Try them for yourself and experience them live! As I’ve said, together, they are the perfect combination.

My love of Pilates and yoga began long before their popularity rose, and they have both has served as pillars of strength for me in all aspects of my professional, athletic and artistic life—conditioning my body, enlivening my spirit, reinforcing my self-esteem and overall sense of well-being. I continue to be amazed and delighted every time I teach a class, or I take one, just how simple, yet powerfully transformational Pilates and Yoga are and how their effects grace the body mind and spirit and catalyze profound change. They center and balance us, making us more aware of ourselves our surroundings, so that we have greater reserves to share good feelings with others, reminding us of what is truly important in life. Pilates and yoga very simply, all differences aside, make us into healthier, kinder, more generous, more connected, conscious people, which, in turn, makes the world a better place.

My DVD recommendations if you want to try it at home:

The Energy Flow Vinyasa Yoga Series: Energy Flow, Balance Flow and Power Flow New Body! Pilates Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Pilates Toys, all available at: www.JenniferKries.com

Jennifer Kries

kries-aerial-headshotIntegrated wellness, fitness and lifestyle expert Jennifer Kries, is an internationally renowned mind-body-spirit innovator. The first to bring Pilates, and The Method, the groundbreaking synthesis of Pilates, Yoga and Dance to a mass audience, her award-winning videos, DVDs, and TV show, revolutionized the fitness community and started the explosive wave of enthusiasm for Pilates and mind/body exercise. She is the creator and producer of several original DVD Series, including her all-new Waking Energy, The Hot Body Cool Mind Series, and The Pilates Method Master Trainer Series. Jennifer has inspired countless readers, practitioners, graduates of her programs, and viewers alike to embrace her all-encompassing philosophy of movement, art, health, life and energy. Her attention to detail, superb teaching style, artistry, and knowledge of Eastern healing techniques makes her one of the most highly sought-after mind-body teachers in the world today.


6 Responses to “Pilates Vs. Yoga: Vive La Difference!”

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Jennifer, I really dont think anyone puts this in to words better than you. When I had no experience with Pilates or Yoga, it was your earliest work that inspired me. Gold is now gray for me but the evolution continues.

October 1st, 2012

Thanks Patricia and, yes, I did write the article all by myself … :) I am a writer in addition to being a fitness and wellness expert.
Glad you enjoyed it and my very best to you!
Where are you from?

October 3rd, 2012

dear Jennifer,
I saw this article via Facebook and found it very inspiring. I would like to share with my clients and friends in Taiwan. I translated this article into Chinese and would like to have your permission to post it on my facebook and also on the facebook page of the pilates studio The Core Pilates, for which I’m currently working for.I could send you the translation if you’d like. Please let me know.

Thanks and regards,


July 20th, 2014

Hi Jennifer,
I saw your article shared by a friend and found it very inspiring. I’d like to share it with my clients and friends on the facebook. Because most of them only understand Mandarin, I translated this article into Chinese. I would like to have your permission to post this translated article on the Facebook. I could sent it to you, if you’d like.
Thanks and regards,


July 21st, 2014