What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates? | Sport Roehampton

By Jennifer Ilsley – Sport and Active Communities Project Officer / Pilates and Yoga Teacher.

In all the years I have been teaching  and taking classes myself, I have been repeatedly asked the same question – what is the difference between Yoga and Pilates?

The answer to the above is both simple and at the same time, not at all. As in most comparisons, there are good reasons to do both and which you decide to follow comes down to what you hope to achieve from it.  

Whilst yoga is fairly well known and been around for years, Pilates is slightly lesser known and a little bit more difficult to find a simple definition of.

A bit of background…

To help explain why I feel suitably qualified to explain what I see as the main difference, and also the benefits of each, I think it might be wise to give some background…

I came to Pilates myself after being a long distance runner for years, slowly developing back issues (herniated discs) that years later were attributed to focussing on just one type of training, neglecting any kind of training for my core muscles. I kid you not when I say I had NO muscle where the natural spinal supports are normally located!

After years of being passed around the healthcare experts (Physios, Chiropractors, Osteopaths etc, all of which helped symptoms but never revealing a cure), I was told by my doctor that I should give up running and take up Yoga And Pilates – I was devastated to think my running career was over.

Over those years of treatment, I was given a few ‘Pilates’ type exercises, but as soon as the pain went away I would stop doing them, get back to normal life, then the pain would return. For some reason I couldn’t see the pattern.
I eventually realised I needed to devote prolonged time and effort into building a strong stable base of muscle, and then maintain it with small amounts of Pilates, probably for the rest of my life because that phrase “Use it or lose it” really does hold the most truth!

Before I discovered Pilates I had always been into Yoga.  From a young age I loved nothing better than a yoga DVD. Us ladies tend to gravitate towards Yoga, mainly because we’re naturally rather flexible, so actually rather good at it, being super stretchy and flexible, but it can be to our detriment. Hypermobile joints are more common in women (meaning we take our joints past the normal range without knowing it, sometimes damaging them…) so you see, it can be a real quandary, and one in which I found myself.

Men on the other hand, tend to have a lot of strength and have less flexibility, so favour gym workouts where they can shine lifting heavy weights, rather than something that feels way out of their comfort zone like Yoga – stretching and developing flexibility over time.
Whether to continue to do something you are good at  (in my case Yoga)….or instead do something that you find challenging (for me – Pilates), that I would benefit more from, is a situation I think of most us find ourselves in quite often – which do you normally choose?

I needed less Yoga and more Pilates – and my back ensured that was the path I took, as Pilates helps to build the natural deep stabilising muscles.
You may naturally have these supporting muscles if you take part in a well-rounded and varied exercise program, but it is useful to look at what defines ‘fitness’

The key elements of fitness are generally described as follows:

  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular
  • Flexibility
  • Body composition
  • Stamina/endurance

The truth is we need to focus on all of these equally to acquire a genuine level of all round fitness.

So, back to the question…

What is the difference between Yoga and Pilates:

Yoga is more of a holistic lifestyle choice – the postures (or asanas) are actually part of a whole discipline and in themselves offer great benefits,  improving strength in larger muscles, flexibility and expansiveness, of the body, but also the mind.

If practiced regularly, you will be able to increase flexibility and suppleness, enabling you to stay active into later life.  Yoga is very much about a lifestyle, and you can get as deep into it as you would like. It can be the start of a beautiful journey to learn more about yourself and how to handle life in a more loving and kind and way, both towards yourselves and others.


Pilates Primarily works on strengthening the body from the inside out, generating body awareness similar to what you find with yoga but also adding more conscious movement, which can be challenging.  Feeling connected to yourself is a great benefit, as well as a calming down of the central nervous system. It teaches us to move slowly and with precision.

We tend to live life these days on automatic, and tend to develop adaptive muscle patters that come about from lifestyle choices.  Sitting in one position for a long period of time for example, at a desk, will over time cause certain muscles to shorten and others to lengthen, causing imbalance.  

Pilates was actually developed to help those who were injured and in hospital during the war, so it leans more towards rehab to correct imbalances (and wake up muscles that may have taken a holiday!).

Joseph Pilates was a former athlete himself, who studied body movement of animals and humans before he devised his mat and apparatus exercises.


I would highly recommend doing both yoga and Pilates, as both give different things,  and I believe  both complement each other rather well. But don’t take my word for it – find out yourself.

Want to try some classes today?

Sport and Active Communities run live online Pilates classes for both beginners and improvers which have been saved on their youtube page here. Follow sport Roe on Instagram to find out more about live classes over the next few weeks.

The Roehampton Students Union are running live Yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays also – to find out more check out RSU@Home.

We also wrote an earlier blog with lots of great links to online workouts to try at home which you can find here.

The University of Roehampton changes lives by helping our students to develop the confidence, knowledge and values they need for a successful and fulfilling life. We produce world-class research that helps us understand the world and change it for the better.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.