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Reformer Pilates vs Yoga: 4 Unique Similarities and Differences

On the quest for a low-impact workout method, you’re weighing up the benefits of pilates vs yoga.

You think to yourself, aren’t they the same?

No, they’re not. Think of pilates and yoga as close cousins, rather than twins.

Both movement methods promote a healthy state of mind and an overall sense of well-being thanks to their focus on deep breathing and controlled movements.

Besides that, both practices have a significant mat component and have similar positions, including forward bends, tabletop positions, and plank variations.

Despite the similarities in terms of technique between pilates and yoga, there are also significant differences.

Today, we want to look at:

  • How yoga and pilates are great rehabilitative methods and where the reformer fits in
  • The differences between pilates vs yoga in regard to breathing
  • What benefits you can gain from both pilates and yoga

1 - Reformer Pilates and Yoga Are Excellent for Rehabilitation

woman works out on Microformer using cables

When you think about pilates, you probably picture a super fit person working out on a mat or a reformer. 

While reformer pilates is an excellent balancing exercise for fitness buffs, it’s also a fantastic practice for rehabilitating joints and muscles after injury.

Both yoga and pilates are beneficial when used in combination with other physical therapy movements because they:

  • Promote deep breathing, which eases stress on the nervous system and can help ease physical pain from injury
  • Increase flexibility and strength in the muscles of the core and spine, easing lower back pain and sciatica
  • Support good posture because of their focus on realigning and correcting the spine, which in turn: 
    • Reduces wear and tear on joints
    • Helps you move your muscles more efficiently with less fatigue
    • Protects the integrity of your joints

In both yoga and pilates, it can be easy to overextend yourself on the mat or to struggle to achieve the correct alignment.

Pilates has a foot up on yoga in this regard—it makes use of supportive equipment. These include pilates chairs, spine correctors, and pilates reformers, which have proven benefits for both body and mind.

Let’s look at some of the rehabilitative benefits of practicing reformer pilates. It can help you:

  • Identify which muscle sets to engage, thanks to the resistance and support the equipment provides
  • Correct poor form and misalignment, helping you relearn how to move correctly and to engage the right muscle sets. For example, instead of tensing your upper abdominals, you learn to use the more supportive transverse abdominal muscles
  • Support injured muscles and joints so that you can slowly restore mobility without causing more pain or further injury 

“I am a stroke survivor… my posture, gait, prosody, exhalation, core strength, balance and much more have continued to drastically improve with Lagree reformer workouts.” 

Fun Fact: Joseph Pilates, the founder of pilates, began developing his pilates equipment during his stint as an orderly in a hospital. He would attach springs to beds to help support the limbs of patients struggling to walk. This developed into the pilates Cadillac.

2 - Pilates and Yoga Both Enhance Your Flexibility and Mobility

young woman in one legged chair pose

As we transition out of childhood, our range of motion gradually reduces because of age and a less active lifestyle. Pilates and yoga can help restore a healthy range of movement to your body and improve flexibility.

Flexibility refers to how far your muscle can stretch—picture a rubber band stretching and snapping back.

On the other hand, mobility refers to the normal range of motion of a joint. Good mobility requires both flexibility and strength.

For example, touching your toes while seated requires flexibility in the hamstrings and glute muscles. Shifting one leg back into a split requires mobility in your hip joint as well as flexible and strong muscles.

Pilates and yoga combine strength, flexibility, and mobility into each practice thanks to the slow, controlled, and repetitive movements.

As you hold your three-legged dog pose in yoga or do 10 reps of toe taps, the slow, breath-led movement enables you to push your body’s limits further with each practice.

3 - Pilates vs Yoga Breathing Techniques

man and woman seated practicing yoga breathing

While both pilates and yoga emphasize deep breathing, the techniques for each are decidedly different.

Pilates focuses on lateral breathing whereas yoga has several variations on the diaphragmatic breath (belly breathing).

Secondly, in pilates you generally inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.

In yoga, you generally inhale and exhale through the nose unless you’re doing an open-mouthed variation.

What do these breathing differences mean in practice?

reformer pilates vs yoga photo snippet

Pilates Lateral Breathing

Unlike yogic belly breathing, where the abdominal muscles are relaxed on the inhale, pilates lateral breathing requires you to engage your core or abdominal muscles throughout.

Keep your core engaged as you breathe in fully through the nose. You’ll feel your breath expanding into the side and back of your ribcage.

Exhale slowly through softly parted lips and keep your abdominals engaged as if you’re squeezing air out from the bottom of your lungs.

Joseph Pilates incorporated lateral breathing when he realized that most people take shallow breaths during their normal day-to-day activities. 

Solely using the top portion of the lungs constricts air flow. This often causes fatigue and can worsen stress and anxiety.

Incorporating lateral breathing into pilates allows you to reap the benefits of deep breathing and to engage your core safely throughout your practice.

What are the benefits of pilates lateral breathing?

  • The constant contraction of the core protects the spine during your pilates practice, enabling you to push your body further.
  • Deep, full breaths help to reduce stress and boost mental clarity and focus.
  • The sideways expansion of the ribcage allows it to open fully, resetting your spine, shoulder blades, and torso for better posture.

Yogic Breathing Techniques

Yoga centers on timed, deep belly breathing, with slow inhalations and even longer exhalations.

Think of the popularized 4-7-8 breathing method

Inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale for another eight.

Researchers have found that the 4-7-8 breathing technique improves the heart rate and blood pressure.

Yogic breathing techniques also manipulate the exhale by changing the placement of the lips, tongue, and teeth. You may exhale through one nostril, alternate nostrils, or exhale with the tongue between your teeth, depending on the type of yogic breath you’re practicing.

4 - Pilates’ Core Focus vs Yoga’s Mind-Body Union

fit man works out on the Microformer

Pilates was designed as an exercise to realign the spine and strengthen the core as a path to strengthening the whole body.

Conversely, yoga wasn’t initially a physical exercise. Instead, yoga postures, or asanas, are meant to condition and prepare the body to be open to the spiritual realm during meditation.

This spiritual element is still residual in today’s yoga practice compared to the much more exercise and rep-oriented format of pilates.

man does standing forward bend

Take, for example, the forward bend. It’s an exercise common to both pilates and yoga but with differing objectives and acknowledged benefits, which we’ll compare in the table below.

Pilates Roll Down Yoga Forward Bend
When it’s done Done as a warm up and cool down exercise at the beginning and end of the practice Done in the middle of yoga sequences after warming up the muscles
How it’s done Exercise repeated 3 times Posture held for several breaths at a time, 10 seconds or more depending on yoga level
Expected b​​enefit
  • Increases neck, back, and leg mobility
  • Strengthens abdominal muscles
  • Stretches the posterior chain, including the back, spine, hamstrings and glutes
  • Activates the flow of energy from the sacral chakra (below navel), thus stimulating creativity
  • Inversion of the head stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, triggering a feeling of relaxation

The above is a great example of how yoga links physical postures with a spiritual awareness and uses the breath to tie the postures together. Yoga isn’t a purely physical workout.

If you’d rather not dabble in the mystical component, then pilates is an excellent low-impact workout that still results in mental focus and sense of well-being. Pilates builds on the solid foundation of strong, deep core muscles and spinal alignment.

Its core focus and realignment will help you work on:

  • Better stability in the core and gluteal muscles, reducing the load on the spine and the pelvis
  • Stronger shoulder girdle and neck muscles leading to better posture
  • Improved stability and mobility in the joints, allowing you to exercise your full range of motion without pain or injury

Frequently Asked Questions

Pilates vs yoga, which one gives you a better workout?

Both pilates and yoga can give you a full body, low-impact workout that builds strength, mobility, and flexibility throughout your body.

That said, pilates allows you to level up the intensity of your workouts, thanks to the variety of equipment and pilates accessories that can be used to add resistance.

Can I do both pilates and yoga?

Yes, you can do both pilates and yoga. They’re complementary practices rather than contradictory ones. As pilates strengthens your core and muscles, it helps you hold your asana positions longer, and with better form.

It’s important, however, to approach each method with the correct mindset and intention.

Remember how the breath differs from lateral breath in pilates to timed belly breathing in yoga. You’ll be successful in both practices if you’re receptive to their individual strengths, pilates being more rep based while yoga favors a longer static hold in each position.

When should you be careful about practicing pilates vs yoga? 

Pilates and yoga are both low impact, and most people can tolerate their movements.

However, nurse practitioner Barbara Cole recommends that expectant mothers, people with high blood pressure, herniated disks, and other pre-existing conditions consult their doctor before embarking on yoga and pilates programs.

It’s also crucial to reach out to a certified instructor to ensure you learn the proper form and postures.

Get Started On Your Pilates Practice With Vaissal Pilates

Pilates and yoga will both boost strength, flexibility, and mobility. Thanks to the variety of pilates equipment available, you can add resistance or support into your practice depending on what your body needs.

Whether you’re starting out with pilates or looking to buy a reformer for your home gym, Vaissal Pilates has a wide selection of reformer pilates machines for you to choose from.

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