Aoife O’Neill, Outsider’s consultant Chartered Physiotherapist, Pilates instructor and yoga practitioner examines the core differences between yoga and Pilates and helps you decide which form of exercise best suits your needs.

Yoga and Pilates are both extremely beneficial activities to partake in. They are mind-body types of exercise meaning they challenge the participant to develop body awareness and breath awareness by holding postures and shapes that challenge mobility, strength and mental discipline. They are also reasonably low impact exercises. The main differences between the two is that yoga is used for improving the flexibility of the body and joints. Whereas Pilates works on relaxing and strengthening tense muscles.

yoga vs pilates

Obviously, a great idea is to try both out and see if you are drawn to one more than the other. Depending on the style of the teacher I tend to find that if the goal is to improve spinal muscle strength and stability of the core area between the hips and the thorax, then Pilates might be more for you. If the goal is for more flexibility and looseness with mental destressing I tend to advise yoga.

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Very broadly speaking if neck or back weakness/ache is an issue in your life with resulting niggles in arms or legs I tend to steer towards strengthening and posture alignment with Pilates. If stiffness and inflexibility is a primary issue but less so strength I would choose yoga. Both are beneficial for posture.

Finding a class or workout that restores and re-energises in this way is very positive and can help reset the nervous system back to a more optimum setting.

Commonly runners, triathletes and endurance athletes suffer from overuse, mechanical type injuries like episodic knee pain or Achilles issues. Current thinking in rehab and prehab of these injuries is that the strength and condition of the core area of the body, from hips through the lower back right up to the thorax is paramount to taking pressure off the limbs. It makes sense then that an activity such as Pilates which focuses on building strength and length and control of this area would be helpful to this cohort compared to no exercise at all. Scientific research has proved that it is best practice to perform some type of exercise for managing back or neck pain and both Pilates and yoga are suitable.

yoga vs pilates

From a stress relaxation point of view, in my opinion, it is good for athletes to move the body in less intense ways than is usual in their normal activities/sport. There is a physiologically calming at lower and slower intensities that helps build awareness for individuals. Finding a class or workout that restores and re-energises in this way is very positive and can help reset the nervous system back to a more optimum setting. Depending on different personalities, everyone will find what works best for themselves in this way. Oftentimes it is good to mix up your activities if you do them. So, you could try a block of Pilates or yoga for this time of the season in preparation for later.

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The main thing is to find what works for you in terms of availability, convenience, class size and teacher. It is fun to try new things and usually if it is on your mind to try it out that’s the time to take steps towards joining a class.

Aoife O’Neill is an experienced Chartered Physiotherapist with a Masters in Manual Physiotherapy and a Diploma in Psychology. She also is a current international tennis player, ex-triathlete, Pilates teacher, outdoor enthusiast, water lover, and loves sharing her passion for health and lifestyle. She can be reached at and holds her clinics at BodyMed.

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