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Pilates vs. Yoga Exercises: What are the Differences and Similarities?

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For some people, the fitness buzzwords yoga and Pilates are pretty much synonymous. Those who know better however can attest that while they can be complimentary, both disciplines are entirely different.

When comparing Pilates vs yoga, one will realize how different one is from the other.

While both are classified as mind-body programs, when one compares Pilates vs yoga exercises, it will become evident that while poses may look the same, the emphasis, focus, and approach are totally different.

For instance, the hip rolls exercise in Pilates works on the spinal articulation while the bridge exercise in yoga just focuses on the range of flexibility.

Explore the seemingly similar yoga and Pilates exercises below and discover the differences in the approach employed by each.


Plow Pose / Roll Over

While the form of the two exercises will seem strikingly similar, there is a difference as far as emphasis is concerned.

In yoga’s plow pose, focus is given when rolling over and back down. However, the real emphasis is actually on the stretch, which is often held for a long time.

On the other hand, the Pilates exercise called the roll over entails continuous flowing movement. Focus is given to abdominal control and breath coordination.

Closer examination of the instructions will indicate other differences. For instance, you will also notice variations in the placement of the arm as well as the use of props in yoga. However, you will also observe some similarities like the clear alignment (open chests with shoulders down) in both versions.

Reclined Hand-to-Foot Pose / Scissors

In both exercises, the practitioner lies on his back while holding onto one foot, toe, or leg.

In yoga, the goal of the reclined hand-to-foot pose is to lengthen the spine and the hamstrings. It also makes use of the core when lifting the head toward the foot. The pose is held for a minimum of five breaths. For many, this is a great hip and hamstring stretch. In some cases, the leg is taken out to the side in order to fully open the hips.

The Pilates exercise scissors on the other hand is aimed to fire the obliques as well as the transverses abdominis in order to keep one’s core still and flexed even if the legs are moving. While practitioners will definitely feel a stretch in their hamstrings, it is only secondary to the core stability that is developed for the exercise to be properly executed.

Swan / Cobra

Sure, both exercises have different animal names but they look more or less the same. Both exercises also work on spinal extension. Of course, they have distinct differences as well.

In yoga, the cobra pose aims to work the upper thoracic only and is often combined with other positions. For instance, one might slide into the cobra from the plank position. Other times, practitioners transition to upward facing dog right after the cobra pose.

In Pilates, the swan exercise works the whole spine. There is also a specific breathing pattern employed when doing the swan—inhale when extending up and exhale when releasing. Also, in yoga, there is no necessary breathing pattern needed when executing the cobra pose.

Push Up / Four Limbed Staff Pose

The four limbed staff pose is often used as a transition move into other yoga poses like the upward or the downward facing dog. Since it is a transition move, it is oftentimes a regular fixture in yoga workouts.

The mat exercise Pilates push up is reminiscent of yoga’s sun salutation. However, with the Pilates push up, you will do 3 full push- ups in the middle. Also, in Pilates, more emphasis is placed on the form of the push up, working on the scapular stability.

Front support / Plank                                                                           

In essence, the plank pose is the same both in yoga and Pilates. However, in Pilates emphasis is placed on holding the abs in more whereas in yoga, the plank pose is held for a longer time.

Plank is otherwise called front support in Pilates. In both practices, the move is made even more challenging by lifting one leg, then the other.

About Louisa Hoffman

Louisa Hoffman

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