Pilates and yoga both use mats, rely on awkward-looking poses and focus on breathing. But their approaches and goals could not be more different.
"The difference is that you do Pilates to tone the core muscles of the body," said Elizabeth Andes-Bell, owner of the Life in Motion and Namaste yoga and Pilates studios in Manhattan. "The true difference is that Pilates is designed as a fitness class and yoga is an esoteric practice. You get that whole mind-body connection going that you don't in Pilates."
Despite their differences, experts say the exercises offer similar physical benefits. "Yoga and Pilates are wonderful forms of stress management," said Jorge Cruise, a weight-loss expert and author of the "The Three Hour Diet." They aren't "that cardio vascular, but they help build long, lean muscle and muscle burns fat."
Cruise, who does bikram yoga (a popular version performed in a superheated room), said that yoga and Pilates help maintain the muscles and joints that tend to stiffen as people age.
Andes-Bell said that yoga allows participants -- known as yogis -- to understand more completely how their bodies function, which helps them manage their weight. In fact, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found those who practice yoga in middle age lose an average of five pounds over the course of a decade. Andes-Bell admits that most of the evidence about yoga's benefits has been anecdotal but believes that millions of yogis over thousands of years must be on to something.
Another study by the American Council on Exercise found that even though hatha yoga burns only 144 calories during a 50 minute session, it provides benefits traditional weight-bearing and cardio activities can miss, such as balance, flexibility and relaxation.
Pilates pays attention to these benefits too but without the meditative and spiritual aspect. Instead, Pilates focuses on high-intensity movements performed in few repetitions. German-born Joseph Pilates created the form of exercise and brought it to the United States in the 1920s. He aimed to develop a system that would create better alignment and body stance to help people look and feel longer and leaner.
"It pulls everything closer to the center," said Jennifer De Luca, owner of the Body Tonic Pilates studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Your appearance starts to change, you get a smaller waist."
Nevertheless, she said weight loss is nothing more than an equation: You must expend more energy than you consume. Pilates can fit into that equation, especially if you pay attention and learn the exercises quickly. If you memorize the exercises, the instructor can move you through the Pilates session faster, and you'll burn more calories.
"So much about Pilates is really about your will," De Luca said. "What you put in is what you are going to get out."
She also said that Pilates inspires many of her students to become more active, and so they often take up swimming or running, too.
Cruise admits his bias toward yoga, emphasizing that it can be done anywhere with minimal equipment, while many forms of Pilates require bars and resistance bands. And some forms of Pilates use heavy equipment, requiring people to go to a gym or buy an expensive piece of machinery. Cruise finds yoga is easier to fit into a hectic schedule.
"I'm all about diet and weight loss for busy people," he said.