I get this question again and again. So, what is the difference between yoga and pilates? As a pilates instructor, I will focus more on what pilates is because it is my area of expertise.
Yoga and pilates are both considered “mind-body” exercises which stretch, strengthen, and center you. Both require much concentration and have multiple layers of difficulty. Both should be practiced with a certified instructor so that you learn the nuances of the movements. Some pilates exercises look a lot like yoga exercises–and there is good reason for that. Joseph Pilates was a student of yoga, among many other things.
Here is where the differences start. Yoga, in general, is based on the Eastern idea of moving energy throughout your body. This is where chakras come in to play. Additionally, one very often finds spiritual or religious elements in yoga. Yoga is a very old discipline which to my knowledge has not changed much. The postures have remained the same. I think (this is my humble opinion!) that part of why postures have not changed with current physical therapy knowledge is because yoga is more interested in energy than it is in muscle balance and tone.
Pilates, on the other hand, is a newer discipline, created during WWI by Joseph Pilates. Pilates began as a therapeutic workout–Joe rehabbed injured soldiers during the war. After Joe moved to the US, he began training professional dancers, gymnasts, and acrobats–all of whom still needed the rehab element, but also needed serious strength, coordination, and balance. If energy and chakras are the center of yoga practice, I’d have to say that muscle balance and posture are the center of a pilates practice. There are both authentic and contemporary pilates styles. Joe was a maverick, he took the most cutting-edge knowledge he had at the time and created his exercises. The authentic studios use his exercises and have not changed them in light of new physical therapy findings. Contemporary pilates, such as STOTT pilates, is on the cutting edge of science and constantly adapts their programs to best suite people now. Religion and spirituality are not part of the pilates program as they generally are in yoga.
Yoga is a lot of fun (at least I think so!) and it always calms my turbulent mind. However, if you are looking for a workout that will improve your posture, strengthen your core, shoulder girdle, deep hip flexors, etc., pilates is the answer because each exercise is picked individually for you in order to balance your muscles. STOTT pilates truly helps prevent injuries through teaching its practitioners how to move appropriately.