What’s the Difference Between Yoga & Pilates? | Escape Haven

What’s the Difference Between Yoga & Pilates?

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Both yoga and pilates have taken the wellness world by storm in recent decades, and their popularity shows no signs of decreasing any time soon. Increasing stress levels, coupled with a greater focus on physical health and wellbeing, are cited as key factors in the growth of both disciplines. Despite this global popularity, there tends to be some confusion around what sets the two practices apart. The two forms of exercise are often considered very similar, and while they do share key aspects, they are also unique and different in their own right. We love offering both our Bali yoga retreat and our new luxury Pilates retreat and while these retreats also share similar elements, their aim, inclusions and vibe are very different. Read on to find out why these practice are unique.

A Brief History of Yoga

Yoga is a sacred tradition that developed in India some 5,000+ years ago. The purpose of the practice is to connect the individual consciousness to universal consciousness in order to usher in a world of peace, harmony, and unity. Yoga aims to not only improve your physical health but your emotional, mental and spiritual health also. While yoga has indeed morphed, changed and expanded with its move to the Western world, it remains to be an integrated health management system using breath, movement, and meditation to unite mind, body and spirit. It also incorporates elements of philosophy, science and ethical ways of living. Classes can range from gentle and nourishing, to challenging and sweaty and this diversity allows the practice to appeal to people from many walks of life. Those seeking a more active, cardio-based class will often opt for Ashtanga, Vinyasa or hot yoga classes. Those more focused on the therapeutic, relaxing and rejuvenating benefits of the practice will often opt for Hatha or a gentle Vinyasa. Together with asanas, breath control, and meditation, yoga aims to improve your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, calming and quieting a busy mind while building flexibility and strength.

A Brief History of Pilates

Pilates is unique in that, unlike yoga and other activities, its origin is relatively recent. Pilates was created in 1920 by Joseph Pilates who was an anatomist. Pilates is a physical system that uses very specific targeted exercises in a focused and disciplined way to transform the physical body and create peace and space in the mind. The main goal of Pilates is to strengthen the core, improve posture, stabilize and elongate the spine and develop balance and overall strength. There are six key principles of Pilates: concentration, control, centering, breathing, flow and precision. Pilates has a full mat routine, in addition to exercises that can only be performed on specific Pilates machines, such as the reformer and the cadillac. There tend to be fewer wild variations of Pilates teachings, with traditionalists favouring mat classes and those seeking more fitness-focused workouts opting for classes on resistance-based reformer machines. Classical Pilates, which marries mat work with a whole host of Pilates apparatus, is considered to be the practice in its truest form. It is considered a resistance exercise, even though, as a beginner, you may experience an increased heart rate. Aside from strength and flexibility, Pilates can assist with everything from improved posture to better breathing, greater mood and noticeable weight loss and tone.

The Key Differences Between Yoga and Pilates

The Spiritual Component

Yoga was originally practiced in India with the aim to focus the mind, connect with a higher consciousness and through this newfound compassion, end suffering in the world. Meditation, mindfulness, and connection to a deeper aspect of self or higher self, is key to a traditional yoga practice. Yoga has been passed down through a lineage of teachings that have been honoured for centuries. Even today, despite yoga’s transformation, it still is a practice that is designed to work on your mind as much as your body, and spirituality is inextricably intertwined into the practice. While yoga asana has evolved and expanded, the poses are still grounded in breathwork and meditation and aim to focus the attention of the practitioner inward. On our Bali yoga retreat, we enjoy introducing guests both the physical and deeper elements of the practice.

Pilates is more of a traditional exercise routine originally developed with the purpose of rehabilitation. Pilates pays attention to the alignment of the body, in addition to the precision and control of each movement. The slower pace and focus of a Pilates class do have wonderful stress-relieving effects for many participants, however, Pilates does not aim to or create a distinct spiritual experience. It is a more physical practice aimed at strengthening and toning the body in a gentle yet highly effective way. Our luxury Pilates retreat is sure to help you find a place of stillness, but it is also designed to have physical results.


Another main difference between yoga and Pilates is the breath. Breathwork in yoga is referred to in Sanskrit as pranayama. Breath is considered a source of energy and lifeforce that channels through your body. The goal of breathwork is to cultivate and control this fundamental life force. Yoga classes may utilize many different techniques of pranayama. Some classes encourage breath work throughout the entire class, while others devote a section of the class just to breathwork. Yoga poses are commonly held for around 5 breaths which allows students to work deeper into a pose and directing the breath into areas of the body that are tight or holding on. 

With Pilates, the breath is used more as a technique to provide the muscles with the energy they need to exercise effectively and efficiently. Concentrating on the breathing technique throughout Pilates will help you to manage the quantity of oxygen coming into the body and traveling to the muscles to help them become more relaxed. Practitioners are encouraged to be aware of their breath throughout the entire class—inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Unlike yoga, there are not different breathing techniques used, nor are specific sections of class devoted to breathwork. Rather breathing is a consistent and constant effort.

The Class Structure

When it comes to what to expect from a class, yoga tends to have more freedom and unpredictability when compared to Pilates. Some types of yoga such as Bikram or Ashtanga are more consistent because they have an established sequence of poses. Many modern yoga classes are more free-form and leave the sequence up to the creative freedom of the teacher, with an infinite amount of variations and combinations of poses. Classes do however generally have a template that loosely revolves around sun salutations, standing poses, seated poses, inversions, twists, balancing poses and ending with Savasana. We love exploring a range of yoga styles on our Bali yoga retreat, although the classes do follow this well-established trajectory.

Pilates classes are more consistent. Typically, Pilates exercises are performed lying supine, prone, or on your side. You can expect to do low-impact muscular strengthening and flexibility exercises on a mat with minimal equipment unless you are at a specialized Pilates studio that has Pilates machines. There are different levels of Pilates from beginner to advanced, however, unlike yoga, there are no different styles within Traditional Pilates. The teacher still has some degree of flexibility in their teachings, and a great teacher will be able to really guide you into the intricacies of the practice for best results. One of the best things about our luxury Bali Pilates retreat is you have the chance to explore both Reformer and Mat classes in their classic style for best results.

The Movements

The poses and moves performed during yoga and Pilates are quite different, as too is the amount of time spent holding them. Typically, in yoga, you will hold poses for a much longer duration. This allows you the opportunity to work with the breath to get deeper into the pose. The focus and concentration required in many of the postures keep you very anchored in the moment, which helps to create a sense of mindfulness. The different yoga asanas have varied functions- they can be designed to create heat, cleanse the internal organs, develop strength, develop mental focus, increase flexibility, tone the muscles, open the joints, relax the mind, open the hips, stretch the spine or focus on more emotional, mental or spiritual objectives. You will generally move through a vast range of asanas (poses) throughout a yoga class.

In classic Pilates, you do not hold poses or repeat them in sequences in the same session. The movements tend to be shorter and with few repetitions, with a major focus on control and precision. Once the move is done, you will generally move onto a completely different move. Some of the actual poses are similar yet in pilates you will tend to build up to some of those moves more slowly than you might do in a yoga class. Generally, Pilates is a disciplined practice that focuses on small movements throughout the various areas of the body. Core strength is a major component of Pilates and all of its various moves. The focus on core offers the added benefits of muscle toning, overall strength, body control, and flexibility. Those who prefer a more structured workout without the cardio component tend to thoroughly enjoy the Pilates method.

Beyond the Mat

While both exercises work the body in effective ways, they utilize totally different equipment. Yoga uses mainly just the yoga mat, as well as minor equipment to aid in the poses, such as blocks, straps, or a blanket. Often in yoga, these props are optional and not always necessary if you are practising from home, although they can be supportive to help students find greater ease or depth in a pose. Our qualified teachers love demonstrating to guests on our Bali yoga retreat the ways these props can assist their practice.

Pilates uses unique and specific machines such as the reformer, Cadillac, wunda chair, spine corrector, small barrel and tower. These machines use a pulley system with varying springs for resistance and are used to assist the body in perfecting alignment, improving strength, and improving inconsistencies in the body. Mat classes in Pilates are as the name suggests, done on the mat. Like yoga, there may be props involved, but generally, they do not require any additional equipment and can be done from anywhere.

The End Result

Whether you opt for yoga or Pilates really comes down to what your aim is. The diverse variety of yoga poses will work your entire body. In yoga, each pose is complemented with a counterpose to work the opposite muscle group. However, beyond the physical body, yoga provides a meditative environment for you to improve your overall quality of life. It focuses on stress relief, relaxation, and developing a deeper connection to yourself. The philosophy of yoga is designed for you to take the deeper lessons learned through yoga off the mat and into your everyday life. 

The goal of a Pilates class is to focus on spinal alignment and strengthening the core in order to have total body control over your movements. Pilates works from the center of your body outward. It requires you to increase your body awareness and utilise muscles with real intention, resulting in a stronger, leaner body. Pilates can be wonderful for those with an injury or undergoing rehabilitation. It can also positively supplement other forms of movement, sports or exercise. The lessons learned in Pilates can help to positively affect the way you move through life with awareness and intention and therefore help to prevent injury and improve longevity.

Trying both practices is a wonderful way to see what works for you, or enjoying both offers all of their diverse benefits. The great thing about both yoga and Pilates is that they are suitable for all levels, all ages and all periods throughout the lifespan. If you are interested in diving into the practices in a safe, supportive and inspiring environment, you may love our Refresh Bali Yoga Retreat or our Luxury Pilates Retreat. Our retreat programs utilise the best instructors, beautiful environments and quality equipment to ensure you the best possible experience. Our Bali retreats are designed for all ages and experience and you are sure to take away a practice that will assist you throughout your entire life. 


Your Escape Haven Bali Retreat offers a luxury wellness experience for body, mind and soul

We invite you to experience our award-winning Bali retreat. If it’s time to fill up your cup and reconnect with yourself on a deeper level, we’d love to help you rejuvenate, unwind, reawaken and experience the very best of Bali. Dive into transformational yoga and meditation classes, exhilarating surf lessons in the warm waters of Bali, fun fitness classes and restorative healing sessions. How much or little you do is all up to you.

Take a look at our wellbeing retreat packages and luxury Bali retreat accommodation options. We’d love to hear from you and help you plan your memorable and transformative retreat in paradise.

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