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Which is Better for My Back - Pilates or Yoga?


Updated June 25, 2014

Question: Which is Better for My Back - Pilates or Yoga?
Many people are finding Pilates an excellent choice for preventing or managing posture related back problems. But how does it fare for back pain, when compared to yoga?
Answer: Believe it or not, Pilates came from yoga (along with martial arts and other rigorous physical disciplines). Joe Pilates, born in the late 1800s and living into the mid-20th century, was sickly as a child. He took up anything he could find to help build his strength ,and yoga was part of his routine. As a person working on his own individual path to health, he was acutely aware of the need for a strong set of core muscles. For him, yoga lacked this important feature. The Pilates exercises were developed when Joe evolved yoga postures in such a way as to challenge the trunk muscles.

An example of a yoga posture that may have been adapted for Pilates is the elephant. The elephant is done on the reformer, a specialized piece of Pilates equipment, and looks a lot like Downward Facing Dog pose. Although the elephant takes place in the same position as Down Dog, it feels quite different while you are performing it; done correctly it releases tension in the low back, increases awareness of the shoulder girdle, and can get you to walk away with very sore abdominal muscles.

That is not to say yoga does not strengthen core posture muscles. But working the core is a key primary intention of Pilates, while in yoga it is one of a number of benefits. Both systems will increase flexibility, strength, balance and coordination. Both can be helpful in reducing or preventing back or neck pain. It may come down to personal preference, as quite often yoga provides the opportunity for a spiritual experience, while Pilates stays mainly in the physical realm.


What is Pilates? Pilates Method Alliance website. last update: Dec. 2007.

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