There are many similarities between the two disciplines, with both offering improvement in flexibility, endurance, control, strength and mental well being.
Yoga itself can be traced back some 5000 years where it was developed initially as a form of meditation, and despite all the variations of yoga classes this core is instilled throughout, even today, with the aim to unite mind, body and spirit.
Pilates on the other hand has relatively recent beginnings having been developed during the First World War as a method of rehabilitating wounded soldiers. Its prominence rose as the strengthening aspects of pilates was adopted by dancers who used it to develop their posture and movement.
When asked in clinic which one is more suitable for patients, generally speaking I direct people to pilates. Pilates is a more gentle exercise that focusses on strengthening the accessory muscles of the body, focusing on the back and core. It is therefore more appropriate if there is an injury present as pilates has been specifically shown to reduce pain as well as aiding in recovery of damaged tissue through posture control and core strengthening. Yoga certainly has aspects of this, however it is not the entire focus.
Due to the fact yoga is a more meditative exercise it can also be very valuable for mental and emotional rehabilitation, so if stress is perhaps one of the main predispositions of your symptoms then yoga may be beneficial in this respect. Chanting may be utilised during a yoga class or even a specific time set aside for meditation with deep breathing an integral part of the session.
Due to the slow pace of a pilates class it certainly has some meditational benefits also, however this would not be a specific part of the class.
Due to the many variations in style of yoga it may be that classes vary in routine each time (apart from Ashtanga or Bikram). Whereas pilates will be more structured and you are likely to know what to expect during the session. Yoga classes may use stretching bands, stretching aids, blocks, or occur in heated rooms, while some pilates classes may use machines, these classes are called reformer pilates, and they may be a little more intense if it is your first time.
In summary, while both pilates and yoga offer great benefits in flexibility and strengthening the main difference lies in the spiritual component of the classes. It often comes down to a preference with most people – so do what you like best as you’ll enjoy it more!