Yoga and Pilates: What’s the difference?

Lady on Pilates Reformer Carriage

We’ve had a number of enquiries from readers around what the difference is between Yoga and Pilates, as well as asking us what the difference is between the various styles of Yoga. So for those of you who aren’t so familiar with these practices, read on for a whistle-stop tour…


Yoga originated in India about 5,000 years ago. For many Yoga is a way of life. In the East many cultures are able to practice the principles of Yoga whole heartedly, but in the Western world there are many lifestyle distractions that may make it difficult to fully commit to the dedication of full practice, instead, the principles can be applied to influence actions and thoughts. The word Yoga is derived from Sanskrit yup, which means ‘union’ or bringing together.

There are specific poses to help you focus on flexibility, strength and breathing. It’s believed that Yoga can help people with high blood pressure, as well as physical ailments such as back pain. The practice can also be beneficial for people suffering with stress and depression.

If you are new to Yoga, it may seem like a minefield out there with the different types on offer.  You might be wondering what the difference is between them all, and which one is right for you. If you are thinking about finding a Yoga class to attend, you’re likely to see one of the following more popular styles at your local gym or studio:

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of Yoga that teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of Yoga class taught in the West is a version of Hatha yoga.  You will get a basic introduction to the most basic Yoga postures. You typically won’t work up a sweat in a Hatha class, but you should leave class feeling lengthened, looser, and more relaxed.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar Yoga is named after its founder B.K.S. Iyengar. It focuses on perfecting the proper alignment in a pose. To help with this, props such as blocks, blankets and straps are used to assist. These Yoga classes are a slower pace to ensure students get into the correct position, rather than the class flowing from one position to the next. Due to the focus on each position and getting it right, it’s a good style of Yoga to choose if you have an injury or physical condition. It’s also a good style Yoga to start with if you are new to the practise, to master the basic asanas.

Bikram and Hot Yoga

This type of yoga was developed by a man called Bikram Choudhury. There is a series of 26 basic Yoga poses, which are carried out in heated rooms of over 100 degrees. This means that you will sweat, LOTS!
Hot Yoga is very similar to Bikram, again being held in hot studios. However as Choudhury trademarked his sequence of poses, if they aren’t taught in the exact same way, it can’t be called Bikram.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa Yoga is more fluid, with poses transitioning into the next pose. Normally there is music playing and this style Yoga can be referred to as ‘Power Yoga’ due to its active nature, so if you are looking for that sweaty, ‘work out’ feeling, this may be the one for you! However, unless you know your upward facing dog from your chaturanga dandasana, it’s probably best to leave this type of class until you are more experienced, so that you can confidently move into the poses without causing yourself injury.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga is based on ancient Yogic teachings, but it was brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970’s. It’s a rigorous style of Yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures and is similar to Vinyasa Yoga, as each style links every movement to a breath. In Ashtanga practice you will always perform the exact same poses in the exact same order.

Other types of yoga include:  Anusara, Kripalu, Kundalini, prenatal, restorative, Sivananda, Viniyoga, Yin and Tantra, but classes for these types are generally not as commonplace as the ones we have detailed above.

Yoga is also very popular with celebrities, with the likes of Fern Cotton, Jennifer Anniston, Emily Blunt, Madonna, Gywneth Paltrow and Colin Farrell taking regular classes to help stay in shape and relax their mind.


Pilates is a series of controlled exercises. It was developed by a chap called Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s as a way to overcome his ailments.

There are two methods of Pilates – in a studio on a specialist piece of equipment called a Reformer Bed which has straps to help you lengthen and strengthen; or on mats in a class environment, with minimal equipment, except maybe for some blocks.

The reformer offers all the benefits of mat work Pilates including overall strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, which can lead to better posture, graceful movement, and relief from pain associated with physical imbalances like back pain.

The Pilates powerhouse muscles, the muscles of the core, are paramount for building strength. Flat abs, strong backs, toned buttocks and thighs are all results of this!

The reformer can accommodate full-range motion which is spot on for increasing flexibility and building strength.

It seems to invite the length we want to create in the body, and it trains the body to sustain that length – think long lithe sculpted Victorias Secret models.

Pushing and pulling with legs or arms against the resistance of the springs, carriage, and body weight is generally strength building.

The instability of a rolling carriage with the springs set at different levels of resistance provides loads of stability challenges that massively develop structural fitness and core strength and promote better balance.

Exercising with the reformer is possible for anyone, at any level of fitness.

Cameron Diaz does a mixture of Pilates, cardio and weight training to stay in shape and uses a combination of mat work and Reformer. It’s also popular with Kate Winslet, Megan Fox, Reese Witherspoon and David Beckham.


It depends on what you want to get out of your training programme. In both Yoga and Pilates, you will gain strength and flexibility, however Pilates will provide a total body workout with focus on aligning the spine and strengthening the core, while Yoga will work out every muscle and help clear your mind.

Remember, if you attend a Yoga or Pilates class for the first time and don’t particularly like it, don’t be put off.  Why not try the other, or a different style of Yoga which may be more suitable for you.


We’re two Mums who are getting through motherhood one day at a time whilst enjoying Yoga and other ‘me time’ activities. We don’t profess to be experts in Yoga, Pilates, exercise, meditation, the human anatomy or medicine and we’re certainly not experts in parenting. We are simply sharing our experience and opinions and occasionally those of people who’s advice we value, and we’ll always reference them. If you’re unsure of starting any new exercise or practice, please consult your GP. And if you’re unsure of purchasing any products we suggest, please consult your bank balance!