Yoga vs Pilates – What are the benefits?

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We spoke to Rebecca Ebert

Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates Instructor, PhysioXtra Pirie Street

Posted: Feb 25 2021

If you’re looking to exercise your mind and body with a workout that focusses on strength, balance and flexibility, then yoga or Pilates could be for you.


Rebecca Ebert, a Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates Instructor at PhysioXtra Pirie Street, says both exercises can help you achieve a similar set of goals and health benefits. They are excellent for strengthening core muscles (particularly after pregnancy), for managing back pain, and improving your mental health and mindfulness. The main difference between the two disciplines is that yoga is grounded in spiritual wellbeing, whereas Pilates is an exercise developed specifically for body conditioning.

“Yoga promotes a flow of movement and poses,” Rebecca says, “Whereas Pilates exercises tend to be done in repetitions and grouped into sets. Some Pilates styles also use different apparatus and machines, as well as the mat.”

“The exercises in yoga and Pilates can really benefit anyone - from athletes (as part of their training regime), to professionals focusing on spinal alignment, general strength and management of injuries, through to the elderly who can find it beneficial for balance and strength improvements.”

It is the combination of poses, breathing and concentration which benefit the mind and body and make both exercises so effective.

Types of Yoga

Try the poses

Yoga originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, and there are now many types of the discipline that have been developed to achieve different health goals. Some common types are:

  • Vinyasa – movement is co-ordinated with your breath and movement flows between poses.
  • Hatha – tends to be slower paced with a focus on poses.
  • Iyengar – focuses on alignment of poses. Poses are held for longer and props (such as blocks) are commonly used.
  • Ashtanga – traditional, a sequence of demanding poses.
  • Bikram – sequence of poses in a hot, humid environment (typically up to 40 degrees Celcius).
  • Yin – slow-paced seated poses, deep stretches that are held for extended times.

Types of Pilates

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Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. It is a series of very specific exercises which target the core for overall improved strength, flexibility and posture.

There are a number of different types of Pilates, but the basic principle remains the same – breathing, control, alignment and flow. Types of Pilates include:

  • Classical Pilates - based on the original form of exercises, it is a mix of mat and apparatus exercises.
  • Clinical Pilates - tends to be run by health professionals (physios, occupational therapists, exercise physiologists) who have an in-depth understanding of injuries and the human body. Classes tend to be smaller in size and programs are designed for the individuals’ needs and medical history. The exercises usually involve a mix of apparatus and mat work.
  • Mat group classes – a series of mat exercises run as a group session.
  • Reformer group classes – group sessions with all participants following the same program using Pilates Reformer Machines.

Benefits of incorporating yoga and Pilates into your routine

Rebecca says that, in general, both Pilates and yoga are great options as low impact forms of strength training – in particular when combined with cardiovascular training.

The purpose of yoga is to unite the mind, body and spirit. Some benefits include:

  • Improved flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Improved posture
  • Improved balance
  • Improved blood flow.

Pilates also has additional benefits:

  • Strengthening of the deep stability muscles (core)
  • Improved body alignment
  • Improved control of movement.

Health benefits

Both yoga and Pilates provide a range of physical and mental health benefits. Yoga and Pilates can be particularly useful at helping to improving physical conditions such as:

  • lower back pain
  • hip pain and injuries
  • neck and shoulder pain
  • hip and knee osteoarthritis
  • osteoporosis/osteopenia
  • high blood pressure
  • type 2 diabetes.

Yoga and Pilates can also help improve your mental health. Conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression can all be improved by regularly practicing yoga or Pilates. Both exercises can also reduce the likelihood of sleep disturbances and many participants report a feeling of improved overall wellbeing.

“The most important thing when embarking on a new exercise regime is to get an assessment by a health professional,” Rebecca says. “They can outline an appropriate program, specifically developed just for you.”

Exercises to try at home


1. Child's pose

Sitting on the floor, with your shins placed under your thighs, buttocks resting on your heels, open your knees slightly wider than your hips. Bend your trunk forward with your arms stretched out in front, forehead on the floor. Breath in, lengthening out through your spine and letting go of the tension in your lower back and hips.

MODIFIED VERSION: Put one or more rolled towels or pillows under your buttocks to raise the pelvis if you can't bring your buttocks on your heels. Rest your hands on a block or on your elbows.

2. Downward Dog

From Child's Pose, reach forward with your hands and press them into the mat with fingers spread wide. Lift your hips into an inverted "V", pushing back through the balls of your feet. Keep your head between your arms as you lift your tailbone to the sky. Sink your heels toward the floor without rounding your back. If your back rounds, bend your knees for a modified stretch.

3. Warrior 1

From Downward Dog, bring one foot forward between your hands, stacking your knee over your ankle. Straighten your back leg, pressing your back heel towards a wall behind you. Make a straight line with your leg and torso, sinking through your hips, keeping your hips aligned forwards. Raise your arms up overhead focusing on keeping your abdominals engaged and shoulders down.


1. Bridge + arm lift

Lying with your back on the mat, bend your knees upwards with your feet on the mat, positioned hip width apart, resting in parallel and knees in alignment with hips. Pelvis in neutral.

Exhale and begin to curl your vertebrae away from the floor one by one, starting with your tailbone. Inhale at the top and extend the arms overhead, maintaining your neutral spine and lifting your hips. Exhale and lower, vertebrae by vertebrae, back down. Return your arms to the side.

2. Single Leg Stretch

Sitting on the mat, engage your Pelvic Floor and lower abdominals and raise your legs up to a tabletop position with your head up into a chest lift position. Breathe out and draw one knee in as the other extends out. Breathe in as you cross them back to table top and breathe out as the other leg then extends and the opposite knee is drawn in.

3. Thread the Needle

Start in a kneeling position with all fours touching the mat, your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under the hips. With one arm, reach under the other arm as far as possible, rotating and rounding your upper back. Bring your arm back to its position, then reach back up to the ceiling as far as possible. Focus on rotating through your chest, not just at the shoulder. Repeat with other side.

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Posted: Feb 25 2021


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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