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Yoga vs Pilates: Which is right for you?

Before signing up for a seemingly life-changing series of Pilates sessions, or twisting into a pretzel posture at a yoga class, learn more about the two disciplines and whether they are suitable for you.

Yoga vs Pilates: Which is right for you?

You can train your mind to be calm and relaxed with yoga and meditation. (Photo: HypnoArt/Pixabay)

SINGAPORE: They might not be as trendy as aqua spinning (stationary biking in a pool) or rebounding (mini trampoline workouts), but yoga and Pilates have withstood the test of time, thanks to the proven benefits and legions of sculpted-bodied fans.

To the uninitiated, the two workouts may appear incredibly similar: Both are low-impact and their enthusiasts all seem to boast preternaturally perfect postures with lean, toned physiques.

“Both yoga and Pilates focus on conditioning, increasing flexibility without building bulk, and developing your endurance,” explained Lin Ong, marketing and business development manager as well as yoga instructor at Upside Motion, a boutique yoga, Pilates and barre studio.

“They certainly share foundational roots as Joseph Pilates (German founder of Pilates) was trained in yoga.”

But anyone who has tried either yoga or Pilates would know that both practices bear multiple differences. Unlike Pilates, an exercise system that was founded in the early 20th century, yoga is an ancient discipline.

According to Lesley De Cruz, a yoga instructor at Yoga Movement, the latter started as a “way of life, designed to rejuvenate the body and the mind”. It is often lauded for its therapeutic benefits as it promotes relaxation, and increases flexibility and strength.

Jessica Sinclair, founder of The Yoga Mandala studio, managed to reduce the curvature of her own abnormally curved spine through yoga. (Photo: The Mandala Studio)

“Yoga is based on a spiritual discipline and most of the times, you are required to hold static poses,” said Audrey Stella D’Cotta, founder of The Moving Body Group, a chain of studios that offers classes in Pilates, spinning and the Gyrotonic exercise method.

“Pilates is a mind-body physical conditioning that was developed as a fitness system for rehabilitation and is more dynamic in movement,” D’Cotta continued. “Pilates exercises are frequently taught in a flowing sequence of exercises.”

Whether you are trying to tone up or destress, here’s the lowdown on the best activity to try, based on your personal goals:


While cardio exercises are generally known for helping folks shed weight, certain forms of yoga and Pilates can work up a sweat too.

“Both yoga and Pilates provide overall toning and weight loss,” explained D’Cotta.

“However, Pilates not only uses body weight but also makes use of equipment such as the reformer that has springs to provide resistance and add challenge to exercises. The spring mechanisms can also provide assistance in exercises.”

Although yoga is often associated with calming movements and appear incredibly low-key, there are more yang-type styles that will help increase the heart rate.

Besides hot yoga, which amps up one’s metabolism, De Cruz also suggests vinyasa yoga, a go-to for that “extra cardio kick”. The vinyasa style involves a flow of poses  synchronised with one’s breathing, with a focus on strength and moving the body.

Pilates not only uses body weight but also makes use of equipment such as the reformer that has springs to provide resistance and add challenge to exercises. (Photo: The Moving Body Group)


Many urbanites suffer from back ailments either from spinal misalignments or simply due to a lack of exercise and activity.

“Both yoga and Pilates are excellent for people suffering from back issues, whether its functional issues like being hunched over your desk at work for long hours or conditions from birth,” said Ong. “The focus on developing core strength also enables the spine to be better supported by the surrounding muscles, which then relieves back pain.”

“Back pain can be a result of issues related to the muscles, nerves or bones,” said Jessica Sinclair, founder of The Yoga Mandala studio, who managed to reduce the curvature of her own abnormally curved spine through yoga. She also specialises in helping scoliosis patients.

Provided the individual has no major complication and “after a doctor’s go-ahead on exercise, my advice would be to work on core strength to protect the back,” said Sinclair. “Back strain is often caused by a weak core.”

She added that exercises such as the conventional plank, the forearm plank, side plank or boat pose (navasana) would be very beneficial if done correctly.


Although Pilates can boost mindfulness – since the method requires one to concentrate on activating specific parts of the body – yoga is often the go-to practice to destress and feel better from the inside out.

De Cruz recommends hatha or yin yoga for this very purpose. “The pose-to-pose, slow-moving practices focus more on lengthening and releasing deep muscle tissues. A great way to destress is also pranayama (controlled breathing), which encourages the practitioner to take controlled inhales and exhales.”

Meanwhile, Sinclair suggests one-legged balancing postures to melt away your troubles.

“The focus required for me to remain balanced distracts me from all problems,” said Sinclair. “Coupled with deep breaths for energy, the stresses of the day seemingly melt away.”

Yoga is often the go-to practice to de-stress and feel better, from the inside out. (Photo: Upside Motion)


After consulting with your doctor, seek the advice of experienced trainers and therapists from reputable studios to determine your personal needs and the type of practice best suited for your condition.

“We recommend a private session so the instructor can tailor exercises to your condition and modify them along the way according to your readiness level and to help the rehabilitation process,” said Ong.

“In group classes, the instructor won’t be able to give you the same dedicated attention. There might be some exercises which you need to skip for the time being till you are further ahead in the recovery process.”

For those hoping to overcome back conditions or injury, Pilates has the added advantage of its rehabilitative effects, especially if combined with physiotherapy.

“Research has shown that Pilates does help with post-injury rehabilitation,” said D’Cotta, whose studio also offers physiotherapy services.

“Naturally, physiotherapy will be more beneficial for someone suffering from an acute injury or pain as our physiotherapists are trained medically and will work on a rehabilitation plan with the client,” she said.

“Pilates conditions the entire body and hence creates a balanced musculature, reducing occurrence of chronic back pain. Pilates exercises also help to develop strength and mobility in the entire body.”

Source: CNA/bt