If you are wanting to join a studio or start a new home exercise routine would Pilates or Yoga be better for you? Aren't these two programs similar?

Both can be done on a mat, there is movement and breathing, both are marketed as mind-body programs and can be performed in cute outfits and bare feet, (or sweatpants and a baggy top - thank you home workouts and virtual classes!).

Yoga studios and yoga teachers seem to be everywhere and because of this yoga classes are often cheaper than Pilates classes, so perhaps Yoga is the easier choice to make. 

However, as a teacher of Pilates and a practitioner of Yoga, I am here to say they are VERY different, and in my mind one method is better suited for new students, those returning from injury or pregnancy, older students and those wishing a safe program to help them improve both strength and flexibility.

Can you guess which one? Pilates! And this is why - 


Yoga's history is one of cultivating a spiritual practice, with the pursuit of enlightenment through the Yoga Sutras (philosophies) and Asanas (yoga postures) to help prepare the body and mind for meditation and inner peace. It comes from the ancient art (some say 5000 years) and the practice of yoga as a means to end self-suffering. It recognizes that the body and mind cannot be separated.

However most people today do not join a yoga class for spiritual enlightenment. They usually come looking for better flexibility, a way back into their body, and maybe somewhere cool to workout with their friends and wear the latest yoga chic attire.

And the "business" of Yoga has figured this out. Westernized Yoga has a business model based on Lululemon outfits, sweaty sexy flows and sardine packed classes. Mostly young women, participants are led through poses, usually performed quickly, often in heated rooms, following a set series of postures. Teachers encourage students to "push to the edge" without a lot of instructions on alignment or safety, for the never-ending pursuit of greater and greater flexibility (um, how long do your hamstrings really need to be?!). It can be a hot, unsafe and intimidating experience. 

Yoga Teachers themselves are often very flexible and seen as "successful yogis" because they can do advanced postures, handstands and seemingly endless contortions with their body. Students are led to believe that being super bendy and hyperflexible is the goal of yoga and the basis for a healthy body. 

The problem, being too flexible and pushing tissue towards more stretch is dangerous and can lead to injuries. 

This is evident in the rise of Yoga related injuries, especially among teachers, finding their way into physiotherapy and chiropractic clinics. Over stretching, over extending, over bending, and over twisting can strain ligaments and cartilage of the joints and lead to shearing damage in the spine. Tasked heavily are the hip, shoulder and wrist joints, as well as the vulnerable discs of the low back, sacrum and neck. 

Now there is no doubt that resting deeply at the end of a yoga class in the final posture of "savasana" leaves most people feeling peaceful and sublime. Permission to spend 5 minutes in stillness, to release tension and relax fully is a gift that yoga can indeed provide. Inside this place of rest and release one can connect to something higher, something outside of themselves; the light, your essence, the oneness of the universe, god, - and that can indeed be a profound experience.

But for that you needn't hurt yourself. 


Pilates on the other hand is only 100 years old and is based in anatomy. Contemporary Pilates is informed by modern exercise and health science, biomechanics, kinesiology, and rehabilitation. 

Pilates doesn't have postures, it has exercises. It is built on movements to strengthen the small muscles of the deep core, and back; the abdominals, pelvic floor, deep spinal and respiratory muscles, and increases tone, balance and function of the whole body working together. Pushing into pain is a NONO.

Pilates classes are small, usually 4-8 people. Individuals get more attention, personalized corrections and exercise modifications to help them be successful and work within a safe parameter for their body. 

Pilates can be performed on a mat, often with props like balls and bands but also on specialized apparatus called Reformers that use springs and pulleys to better support, stimulate and strengthen the body. Private lessons are also popular for women's health issues, as well as pre and post surgery rehabilitation.

Pilates Teachers are skilled problem solvers and master communicators, usually with years or decades of teaching experience. Pilates teachers SEE their students and assess an individuals posture and movement continuously, taking into account their injuries and history to help them improve safely.

The goal of Pilates - in a nutshell - is to balance and improve core strength & full body function.

Because here's the thing: 

You need functional strength and healthy joints more than flexibility. To keep your bones strong, to keep your metabolism firing, to keep your movement safe and stable, you need strength. Especially as you age, especially as a women, especially if you have pain. Work on improving strength first. Flexibility will improve because of it.

Yoga, in its current modern form seems best suited to a young, healthy population. Or for those who already do other forms of sport and strength training and use yoga for cross training. 

Stiff, tight, older bodies would do well to gain more flexibility but need to do that safely through slow, aligned, strength building exercises, not fast and fancy asanas.

Those with injuries also do better with slower exercises, supported with props, breathing techniques and modifications. And everyone learns better when given clear instructions and personal feedback.

Can yoga be therapeutic too? Quite possibly yes. In the right class with the right teacher.

But unless you are working with someone who has a background in anatomy and biomechanics, years of teaching experience with applied yoga therapy skills, it is unlikely. 

Pilates on the other hand has something to offer everyone. From young to old, stiff or flexible, injured or healthy, it will support and serve them, with strength and mobility, from the inside out. 

So start with Pilates as your foundation to a healthy spine, good core strength, safe joint movement, healthy hips and shoulders, full deep breathing and better body awareness. Then everything else you do - from golf, running, lifting kids, lifting weights, even Yoga - you will do safer, stronger and better!