Many of you have asked me to try to articulate how I describe the differences between Yoga and Pilates. While I could write a book on the subject, I will try to present the major differences (as I see them) as concisely as possible.
First let me say that I practice and enjoy both Pilates and Yoga. I find them as movement forms to have many similarities that lend well to one another. The following thoughts are my thoughts and are not meant to demean or belittle either Yoga or Pilates, but to try to put into words a clearer idea of what these both are and are not.
Yoga is a philosophy and Pilates is an exercise regimen
First, we must look at the intentions of both practices. Yoga is a philosophy that has existed for many thousands of years. There is a religious text called Bhagavad Gita that many of the asanas (postures) are representative of. The intention of the asanas is to create openess in the body to be able to sit in stillness for meditation and the attainment of kundalini or enlightenment. Only with the introduction of Yoga to the western world was it ever thought of as a fitness or exercise regime. Pilates has no spiritual or philosophical text or connection. It is an exercise regimen intended to create Uniform Body Development. The goal of Pilates is movement in the most precise, efficient, and effortless way.
Yoga works from the outside-in and Pilates from the inside-out
In yoga the series of movements start broad with sun salutions. They continue to be expansive and standing until about half way through practice, depending on style of yoga (i.e. Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Anusara, etc.) Then they move towards seated, prone, and supine work and finish supine with savasana (or rest pose). The external, expansion movement opens the body up for stillness and internal reflection. Pilates begins supine with small muscle engagement, connecting to mind body awareness and control. It moves from the center outward, starting with small movements and then gradually expanding to full body movements. The more expansive movements come at the end of the series leading to control of full range of motion, stability, and strength of movement.
Both Yoga and Pilates shapes of movement are based off of things seen in Nature. Many of the movements mock animals like Cat, Swan, Snake, or Cobra. Many represent plants like Tree or Lotus. Many of the shapes are represented in both Yoga and Pilates. For example in Yoga Boat Pose is very similar to Pilates' Teaser; Pilates' Swan and Yoga's Cobra are similar, and many shapes make an appearance in both styles of movement.
Focus on Breath
Breath is a focus of both forms. The movements and the breath are coordinated. In most Yoga the breath is a heated cycle of breath (inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose), while in Pilates the breath is a cleansing style (inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth). See previous blog Breathe.
Like I said I could write a book. But let's start with these. Let me know your thoughts on the differences and similarities between the two in the comment section below. Or if you have a specific question about either forms feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer as clearly as possible.
Hope this helps and sheds some light on the subject.