Yoga and Pilates are both forms of exercise that engage your mind and body. You can practice either activity at almost any gym or wellness center, or learn them at home with a book, DVD or online tutorial. The basic forms of both exercises require only a mat and adequate floor space. Because it's easy to adapt both exercises to your fitness level, almost anyone can enjoy the health benefits of yoga and Pilates.
Yoga is an ancient form of meditation engaging the body and the mind. There are many types or schools of yoga, but the most common type in the United States today is hatha, which focuses on physical poses and breathing technique. Other types of yoga, such as raja and jnana, emphasize meditation for emotional, intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. Though traditionally yoga is a path to overall self-improvement, many people use yoga as a means to mental and physical wellness, according to the American Yoga Association.
Joseph Pilates developed Pilates, a form of physical and mental conditioning, in the early 20th century. He designed a series of mat exercises to help tone and strengthen partially immobilized World War I soldiers. The exercises are based primarily around core strengthening and flexibility and indirectly tied to yoga and martial arts. Pilates referred to his system of exercise as “contrology” because it requires intense concentration for bodily control. It's possible to perform most Pilates routines with only a floor mat, letting the body act as resistance. Some forms of Pilates also use machines such as the reformer, which provides mechanical resistance.
The mental focus and controlled breathing required to perform yoga and Pilates correctly helps reduce stress. The exercises also help regulate your sleep and improve your mood. Yoga and Pilates may help reduce symptoms such as fatigue associated with a variety of disorders including cancer, depression and chronic pain.
Practicing Pilates or yoga can help improve flexibility, range of motion, balance and posture. Pilates strengthens and tones muscles without adding bulk, making it an exercise of choice among dancers and other athletes. Pilates strengthens the core and back muscles and may help manage back pain. Yoga can reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. Neither Pilates nor yoga is an aerobic workout, so these exercises should supplement a workout routine that includes cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, jogging or cycling.