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Yoga & Pilates: The Benefits to Both

By Amy Gonzales

I grew up as a dancer. I was exposed to various techniques of exercising for flexibility and fitness training. I remember taking a class just on stretching at one point of my dance career. I remember walking by yoga studios in high school and hearing some of my friends say that they’ve tried it and loved it. I never really gave yoga much thought at the time because I was more concerned with increasing my flexibility in my hip flexors and building upper body strength. In retrospect, I regret not starting yoga at a young age because yoga is holistic exercise of  the mind, body and spirit. I was too busy focused on my physical ability rather than my state of mind.

Pilates: Something I Learned In College

In the Fall of 2010, I took my first ever pilates class at Riverside Community College. I was nervous and excited about what I would learn because I knew that this form of exercise was new (created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s) compared to exercises such as Tai Chi, kickboxing and even yoga. I remember thinking, “Oh wow, a whole semester dedicated to this, this will be a good time fa sho!” I walked out of that class aching and hurting (I took a year off of dance, so getting back into a routine of stretching was a price I had to pay). Pilates works out your entire body in addition to the mind. The focus of pilates is on the core of the body so the rest can freely move and this makes your body stronger both on the inside and out. Here is a brief history of the two forms of exercises, similarities and differences between them and how you can choose which one is the right form of exercise for you.

Yoga: What’s It All About?

Yoga was originated in India around the fifth century BC. It’s purpose? To connect the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness through physical activity. Yoga aims to improve physical health, as well as emotional and spiritual health (something we all need!). Through repetitive movement, yoga can be quite therapeutic. In addition to being therapeutic, these movements focus on building flexibility and strength. Many types of yoga involve meditation at some point during the exercise (Gaiam). The meditative aspect of yoga tends to attract people who are seeking to unwind from stressful situations (why haven’t I been doing this longer?!).

There are many different types of yoga, but I will mention these three in particular (to keep this short and sweet). Hatha yoga is great to help you chill out from a long day (my personal favorite). Kundalini yoga is said to help people dealing with addictions. Sivananda yoga is the most physically stimulating. It consists of a series of 12 common poses that helps to increase flexibility and strengthen muscles. Traditional yoga also has strong ties to spiritual religions such a Hinduism and Buddhism.

Pilates: The New Kid In Town

Unlike yoga and other activities, Pilates’ origin is fairly recent. Pilates was created in 1920 by Joseph Pilates for physical rehabilitation (Gaiam). The idea behind Pilates is to gain flexibility, strength and body awareness without building bulk. Pilates is considered a resistance exercise. As a beginner people may experience an increased heart rate (I surely did) even if you are relatively flexible and active. Pilates has a full mat routine, in addition to exercises that can only be performed on specific Pilates machines, such as the reformer and the cadillac (Energy Pilates Fitness).

The main goal of Pilates is to strengthen the stomach, improve posture, stabilize and elongate the spine and develop balance and overall strength (A Body In Balance). There are six key principles of Pilates: concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision. These key fundamentals are used in conjunction with the mindset that you are creating a leaner, better you from your core muscles out. You want to have a toned body? Then pilates may be the right exercise for you.

Similarities of Yoga and Pilates:

  1. Both alleviate stress!
  2. Pilates and yoga both use a mat.
  3. Both are available as a class at the gym or studio.
  4. Both are available for streaming online video and on DVD.
  5. Yoga and Pilates are great for lengthening muscles.

Differences of Yoga and Pilates:

  1. In some types of Yoga, poses are held for long periods of time.
  2. Pilates focuses on controlled and precise movement.
  3. Pilates can be more fast paced, whereas yoga tends to go slower.
  4. Yoga can be used for improving the flexibility of the body and it will also gradually increase the flexibility of your joints.
  5. Pilates focuses on trying to relax muscles which are tense and provide strengthening of the numerous muscles of the body.

To learn more about yoga and pilates check out this video.

I am fortunate enough to have practiced both of these methods. Yoga has managed to calm me down quite a bit and manage my stress levels. Before yoga, I really wasn’t that well equipped when it came to meditation and breathing techniques. Pilates has helped me with having control of my body and focusing on my center (core) when I am not fully aware. Although it’s been a few weeks since I have taken a class, I can practice both at home with my mat. I feel that everyone should at least try one of these out to see if they suit you. We all must find a way to calm and relieve stress and I hope everyone can find their center and focus on staying fit (physically and mentally).


Do you practice yoga or pilates? What other forms of exercise do you practice at the gym or in your spare time? Share your exercises with us!


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