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Yoga or Pilates ? Which one is better for you?

Yoga has been around for thousands of years and first originated in India.  Pilates is a relative newbie having been created in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates as a way of rehabilitation.  Both offer health benefits, but which is better yoga or pilates?  In today’s world physical results rank high as a criterion, but what about the mental and spiritual aspects?  Consumers want an exercise experience that is physically challenging, that is a sound value, and creates tangible results.    

Editor's Note: This post was updated in February, 2014

•    Yoga seeks to address the body, mind and spirit, while Pilates is more about strength and body alignment
•    “Power yoga” and other Yoga forms offer cardiovascular benefits
•    Pilates focuses/isolates body parts for conditioning; Yoga targets the whole body  
•    Pilates “Reformer” classes often cost more than yoga classes
•    There are many more types and variations of Yoga
•    Instructor certification varies for both Yoga and Pilates

Physical Results

Pilates focuses on specific muscle groups that are worked in isolation.  It seeks to strengthen the “core” – or middle body--and align the spine.  Yoga seeks to strengthen the entire body by incorporating many different muscle groups at the same time. The movements in yoga are also structured so that the body always remains in balance.  Postures are designed to work together to this effect.  Pilates can be done on a piece of equipment, called a reformer, or on a Pilates mat where the focus is on performing a repetition of movement.  Pilates on a reformer offers a more custom experience, but misses the energy that a group dynamic can create.  Unlike Pilates, some types of Yoga such as “power”, “hot” or “Bikram” offer a cardiovascular benefit.  In particular, even without heat, Power Yoga’s flowing movement and holding various postures creates core heat and sweat.

Mental Results

Yoga seeks to balance the body, mind, AND spirit.  Pilates does not. Pilates seeks to heal the body and provide some mental benefit via stress release and balance. Spiritual “awakening” isn’t a goal.  Many types of yoga will use breath to help achieve the mental and physical goals.  The “Pranayama” and “Ujjayi” breath are examples of specific yoga breathing techniques. In Pilates, students simply breathe through the nose and exhale through the mouth.    

Accessibility & Cost

Both Yoga and Pilates classes are easily found.  Private studios, health clubs, and community centers are apt to offer classes.   However, many venues only offer Pilates mat classes.  For serious practitioners, the Reformer classes are a must.  These classes cost more--anywhere between $12-$35 per session for small group classes (8-12 students).  Pilates mat class costs are comparable to Yoga class costs and range in price from $10-$20 per class.

* In SoCal we've tested Club Pilates and Core40. The later is more intense and more expensive. Club Pilates often runs deals for class packages under $14/class. As of 2014 Club Pilates has 18 locations, 16 in CA, 1 in AZ and 1 in Novi, MI. Core40 has 5 CA locations, 3 in San Diego and 2 in San Francisco.


Yoga offers more variety.  There is Gentle, Prenatal, Restorative, Anusara, Bikram, Power, Astanga, Kundalini, and more!  Many of these fall in the “Hatha Yoga” bucket (which means the physical practice) and may vary only a little from style to style.   The point is that with Pilates the choice is limited as compared to Yoga.

Teaching Certification

Certification for Yoga and Pilates instructors is not regulated.  However, for Pilates it is more likely that the Reformer instructor will have more training than someone teaching a mat class.  Some Yoga instructors have very little training while others have years of both formal and informal training.  Bikram Yoga instructors, for example, must complete a 9 week training process.


Yoga is a better, overall system of self care.  Practitioners can achieve cardiovascular benefits as well as benefits beyond the physical.  Additionally, pricing is reasonable and finding a class is easy.  

EDITORS NOTE:  Yoga editor, Kai Trinh contributed to this article.

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