Difference Between Yoga and Pilates

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Fitness and Back Pain


Yoga or Pilates for Back Pain
Yoga vs Pilates for Back Pain

Discover the difference Between Yoga and Pilates for Back Pain Management.

Does Yoga or Pilates relieve back pain? Is there a difference between the two and which is best? I get this question a lot from my patients. And the answer? Well, it depends on who is asking!

The reason I can’t give a definitive answer here is because in my opinion, there are so few differences in Yoga vs Pilates, and while both these exercise programs do help relieve chronic back pain, it does not necessarily follow that one is better than the other. However, we can dig deeper and get a bit more of an idea as to when one may help over the other.

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First we will quickly go over what Yoga and Pilates are, before comparing them as exercise programs for back pain relief. While my advice here is based on my own experience as a Physiotherapist and Pilates instructor - one who specialises in back pain, I do incorporate some Yoga techniques into home exercise programs and refer some patients onto Yoga classes, when appropriate.

What is Yoga?

There are many forms or styles of Yoga they all share aspects of:

1. Relaxation: Yoga focuses directly on releasing tension from your body and mind. It uses breathing, positions and exercises to achieve this.

2. Movement: Yoga is based on a series of movements aimed at exercising your whole body. This in turn relaxes and connects the body with the mind. It aims at stretching and strengthening the body as a whole.

3. Breathing: Breathing is an important part of Yoga, and is deep, slow and rhythmical. It aims on releasing tension in the body and mind.

4. Positive energy: Is the ‘body, mind and spirit’ aspect of Yoga, where Yoga encourages positive thinking, and spiritual well-being.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is also a body, mind spirit approach to movement. The main components of Pilates include:

1. Centering: Is where you bring your awareness to your centre around your lower tummy and initiate your movement sequences from this point.

2. Control: All Pilate’s exercises are performed with control through concentration, specific movement and positioning of each body part.

3. Precision: Refers to all Pilate exercises, all having a very specific format, where full concentration is required.

4. Breath: Integrating a full breath into each Pilate exercise is a fundamental element of Pilate exercises. Each part of a movement is associated specifically with an in breath or an out breath.

5. Flow: All Pilate exercises are performed in a gentle, flowing manner which enhances the body mind connection.

What are the Differences between Yoga and Pilates?

There are many opinions on the subject, but from my experience, I consider there to be more similarities between Yoga and Pilates than differences.

The origins of both are different, Yoga from the east, Pilates from the west. Pilates tends to have a greater physical root, with an emphasis on core strength, which is great for reducing back pain. Yoga, on the other hand, places a spiritual as well as physical emphasis, which aims at nourishing your body and mind equally. Yoga is also great for promoting flexibility and movement.

It is worth noting that many experienced Pilate’s instructors (like myself) would teach Pilates with an input from both Yoga teachings as well as Pilates courses. I have noticed that Yoga teachers with experience of Pilates often say the same thing. Indeed, both disciplines work beautifully together, and there are courses out there that purposefully combine the two disciplines - ‘Yogalates’!

In my opinion both Pilates and Yoga are fundamental to healthy back care management, and long term back pain relief, once taught appropriately with your specific back problem in mind.

“But which is better for back Pain - Pilates or Yoga?”

Ok - put me on the spot! Which is better? Well, as I said earlier, both disciplines are of great value in the management and treatment of back and neck pain - once they are taught correctly. I generally advise people who are experiencing back pain to do Pilates rather than Yoga, because of the focus that Pilates has core strength - and core strength and strength building are essential requirements of any rehabilitation exercise program. However, for cases where mobility is the problem - and you are not experiencing pain - then yoga may be of greater benefit to your back care management.

Exercise for back pain? A word of caution

If you have back pain then I strongly advise that you first attend a chartered Physiotherapist who also has a qualification in Pilates or Yoga before you embark on an exercise program. The reason for this is because the type of back or neck pain that you have will influence the type of exercises you should do. Put simply, not all Pilate’s exercises are appropriate for certain back pain conditions, and the is good for back pain. Movements require tailoring to your specific presentation. Often, clients will present to my clinic, having worsened their back or neck pain by performing inappropriate Pilate or yoga exercises. A typical example would be where a patient has performed an ‘end of range’ exercise (in other words fully stretched and moved into pain, trying to self-treat a back injury. That’s why, if you have back pain, you need to proceed with caution!

  • An article on Yoga for back pain
  • What you should consider before you download core strength exercises from the web and start following them, particularly if you have back pain. Read this article on Core Strength Training
  • If you have back pain and are looking for exercise, then I have a selection of articles on the Fitness for Back here

While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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