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Yoga and Pilates share some poses, like the side plank.
People often mention yoga and Pilates in the same breath because both are slower-paced exercise disciplines with a combination of mental and physical components. Both are also great at building strength and flexibility, and both put great emphasis on proper breathing. But while they do share some common ground and even some common exercises - Pilates was partially influenced by yoga - they are distinct in other key ways.
Yoga is a mind-body-spirit discipline which has been practiced for over 5,000 years. The focus is on total health, which means that breathing and meditation are equally as important as the physical exercise component. Pilates was developed by former self-defense instructor Joe Pilates in the early 20th century, as a health system with both mental and physical aspects. He originally geared it to bedridden war patients, and then to dancers and gymnasts. Breathing is crucial in Pilates too, but the bigger aim is to sculpt and strengthen your muscles without bulking them up. So if your goal is holistic health, yoga has an edge because of the spiritual component; if it's physical conditioning, both deliver but Pilates has a small advantage.
When starting out in yoga, you focus on less challenging postures, but they work the entire body. With regular practice, you can greatly improve your strength and flexibility and can move up to more advanced poses when ready. With Pilates, you start with basic exercises that focus on the core and add more advanced moves later. Yoga is based primarily on striking a pose and holding it, while Pilates features sequences of slow, steady, controlled moves. If you want to get your heart moving faster, you can always speed up Pilates, as long as you still maintain control. In a 60-minute workout session, a 150-pound person will burn over 250 calories in beginner's Pilates and almost 190 calories doing Hatha yoga. So if you want to increase strength and flexibility, we'll call it a tie. If your goal is weight loss, Pilates is better than yoga, but cardio exercise would trump them both.
Both yoga and Pilates require concentration and proper breathing, with an understanding that breath represents your vital life force and both help improve focus and balance. Yoga, however, is also known for relieving stress and anxiety, enhancing mood, promoting inner peace and creating an overall sense of well-being. So if you're stressed out or depressed, yoga probably has more appeal; otherwise both give a well-rounded workout.
Yoga doesn't require much to get started. Some gyms have yoga mats you can borrow, but you'll probably want your own; sticky mats prevent slipping during postures. A yoga block and strap can also help you execute poses when you can't quite reach on your own. For Pilates, all you need is a mat if you're starting with mat Pilates; don't use your yoga mat though, as you'll want something thicker and less sticky. Sometimes you'll also need a stability ball, bands or other gym gear that are used to replicate the traditional Pilates machines. If you're jumping right in to reformer Pilates, you'll probably go to a health club that has all the specialized equipment like reformers and Cadillacs.