Pilates and yoga can be misunderstood as being one and the same.
Both disciplines emphasize breath regulation, mindfulness during practice and alignment, but that doesn't mean they should be used interchangeably. It is important to understand the key differences; depending on your goals, exercise history and body type, one might be more appropriate for your individual needs.
Traditionally yoga includes spiritual, mental and physical dimensions. There are many schools of yoga; popular styles include Hatha and Ashtanga. Yoga – other than "restorative" yoga – tends to include more standing work than Pilates. It uses minimal props: at most a bolster, a block and/or a strap.
Mat Pilates is primarily done on the floor and focuses on training the core; the core includes everything between the armpits and the pelvis. Group mat classes usually utilize small apparatuses such as the Pilates ring, weighted balls, a squishy ball, rotating disks and/or a foam roller. Pilates can also be done on machines, which allow participants to work against resistance. The most popular are the Reformer and the Cadillac Chair. So what discipline is best for you?
If you have osteoporosis:
Osteoporosis is a condition in which one or more of your bones has lower-than-optimal density.
To improve bone density you need to work against gravity, and appropriately and progressively overload your tissues. Most yoga classes, and many mat-Pilates classes, rely mainly on your own body weight. So, unless you wear a weighted vest or bring dumbbells to the class, a ceiling of possible overload exists.
Therefore, prioritize machine-based Pilates classes, or at least Pilates classes that include small weights. To protect the integrity of your spine, tell your instructor you want to maintain a neutral lumbar spine (versus the "imprint" position), and prioritize upper-back extension exercises (think exercises where you stick your chest out) over exercises that require flexion (such as crunches).
If you want to lose weight:
Choose flow yoga classes, machine Pilates classes and/or mat-Pilates classes that include strength-building props such as weighted balls.
That said, don't be fooled: Doing a few yoga and/or Pilates classes will not magically melt the weight away. Pilates will strengthen your core and improve your co-ordination, and yoga will improve your balance and mobility, but to lose fat you need to increase your overall metabolism.
Pay attention to your diet, do high-intensity interval training and do multijoint exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups.
If you are hypermobile, or very flexible:
Prioritize Pilates. I am not saying don't do yoga. If you love yoga, continue practising. Just prioritize Pilates and other strength-building activities. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of strength to flexibility activities, keep your muscles active in every pose and make your goal to maintain flexibility rather than increase it.
Also, stay away from hot yoga. When you stretch, as you approach the limits of your flexibility, your body provides a pain response. Heat delays the pain response, allowing you to stretch further. For hypermobile individuals, stretching further is not a good thing. Plus, stretching past your limits can actually lead to injuries. If you decide to go to hot yoga, only go as deep as you would go within a regular non-heated class. Stop before you feel pain, not when you feel pain.
If you are hypomobile, or strong and relatively inflexible:
Prioritize yoga over Pilates. Just be careful; listen to your body, remember to breathe and don't push past pain, yank or bounce in any pose.
If you are stressed:
Since both disciplines prioritize mindfulness and deep breathing, both could be beneficial, but the further along the "stressed continuum" you are, the more I suggest prioritizing restorative yoga.
No matter what discipline you choose, find classes with an appropriate teacher-to-student ratio; even a knowledgeable teacher will find it hard in a larger class to monitor students' form. Don't reinforce bad form – if you think you are doing something wrong, ask.
We often dislike what we are not good at. Fixing your weak links and avoiding injuries might mean you have to prioritize the exercises that you know are good for you, but that you don't like or where you have the most room for improvement. For example, in my ideal world I would run daily, but I know from experience that leads to injuries. To ensure I can run for the rest of my life, I make myself stretch and do Pilates.
Even if you don't love Pilates or yoga, one of them might be exactly what you need to stay mobile, energetic and injury free.