Should I Do Pilates or Yoga?

Pilates or Yoga? It’s a question I get asked a lot. The answer of course depends on what you want to get out of it? But that’s not what you want to hear, so let’s go a little deeper:


Yoga has its origins in meditation. The meditation and breath came before the moves, which were created to help with the meditation. Of course yoga has evolved and branched out so you’ll probably be able to find a class instructor who loves the moves and is light on the meditation. Equally I know yoga instructors who go all out on the breath and relaxation whilst you have a good lie down in an appropriate posture. Sounds good hey?

I’m not a yoga instructor, nor have I spent a long time studying it so apologies if you disagree but I’m generalising for ease of understanding.

Physical benefits could include mobility and strength (I say could because it’s all about doing it right and practising) as well as reduced stress and improved wellbeing (if you can master the breathing and go a bit internal).

In a class many moves will be held, to enable you to go deep but there’ll also be a sense of flow in some of the more well known sequences (or asanas) like Sun Salutations.

You can do it anywhere. You can go on retreats and do it on beaches or city rooftops. You can do it really hot (although Bikram is a different species to yoga), you can go hard with astanga or gentle and internal with Dru.

You might need to learn a few sanskrit names. Some yoga instructors are a bit hippy and like to eat hemp seeds, whilst others have the occasional bacon butty and coffee. Some enjoy both.

Yogis like to wear colourful leggings (often with attention to fabric provenance) and tell the world they’re off to yoga by wearing them on the school run with their yoga mats strapped to their bicycles.

Hairy armpits are as acceptable as gel pedicures.


Pilates is a system of exercise orginally created by Joseph Pilates who was a bit of a maverick. Pilates is about moves, breath, strength and spine/joint mobility or articulation – most commonly practised on a mat.

Researchers have recently said that Pilates is better for back pain than painkillers. This is because of its deep focus on the way joints, muscles and fascia (the sheath that covers and connects muscles and joints) move.

Put simply, Pilates aims to retrain your body to move better. It’s based on gymnastics, yoga and some other ideas that Joseph Pilates probably pinched (see above comment about him being a maverick).

The scary equipment bit is optional (like the reformer or cadillac) and is designed to help with mat work. Then there’s some uber Pilates which you can do on the equipment once you’ve mastered mat work.

You can expect to be asked to move your body in ways you didn’t think were possible but might surprise you. You’ll also do familiar exercises like the Hundred (the one where everyone pants), the Roll Up (looks like a stretched out sit up) and the Rollover (legs over head – please don’t let me fart)! They might look like abdominal exercises but they are very different.

Speaking of which, Pilates is not all about abdominals (I rarely use the word in my class) it’s about your whole body: shoulders, bottoms, legs, arms, backs and of course pelvic floor. And core is a rubbish word. If your core was as weak as everyone tells me you wouldn’t be able to stand up.

Some Pilates instructors are very serious and slightly tyrannical. Some won’t let you hundred until you can breathe correctly, whilst others (like me) find some of the positions really amusing and might occasionally laugh with (at) you.

Pilates participants also like to wear colourful leggings but only if everyone else is. It’s a tribe thing. You’re more likely to find black/navy and serious in Pilates classes, oh and thicker mats than in yoga (forgot that bit).

Pilates participants also need to pay attention to what underwear they wear since bra clasps can dig in and lacy pants can cause chaffing.

Pilates teaching methods aren’t quite as hippyish and easy going as in yoga. There’s a bit of snobbery around which method you trained in and slight differences. And don’t mention modern Pilates to a Classical Pilates teacher. They might kill you.

Oh and instructors will look at your tummy a lot but we’re not really looking at the bits you’re worried about.

It’s prudent to avoid lentils/onions/cabbage a few hours before a Pilates class. Farting is rare. Everyone does it. It’s still funny. Please laugh at yourself.


Whilst both yoga and Pilates will help with joint mobility and muscle flexibility, if you have a specific issue or are training for an event/sport you would still be better off seeing a mobility specialist or trainer to focus just on this.

Back Pain

Pilates isn’t a cure all for back pain. If you have chronic back pain you still need to see a GP and/or physiotherapist in the first instance.


All classes and what you get out of them are dependent on the instructor, their training, their ability to teach and whether or not you like them. Not personally (although that helps) but like their style. Don’t give up after one effort. There are so many different styles and teachers out there.

Drop in Class or Course

I would recommend that you go for a course rather than a drop in class. This way your instructor knows who’s coming each week and can progress the class and plan accordingly. All forms of exercise are about progression. You might find you plateau and get bored otherwise or just never progress from the basics. Both you and your body.

Your motivation

Last but most importantly what do you want to get out of a class? If you have a specific need or want to learn a new skill then find out which class works best for you. If you want a social class, with friends, then the exercise modality (hate that word) doesn’t really matter. Choose either. Or choose both!

Oh yes. You can do both by the way. I get asked that too. You just might need to change your leggings.

If you fancy Pilates, with me, check out my online Pilates. Nearly 2 hours of 10 minute Pilates programmes for £19.

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