The short answer?
They are both INCREDIBLE forms of exercise that help a person to better understand and connect with their bodies.
Pilates helps you to stabilise using the correct muscles and is therefore very good for people with hypermobility or an excess of flexibility (these are the people who have always been able to flop forward and touch their toes without blinking an eye).
Yoga includes postures or positions that actively work on flexibility. It is therefore very good for stiff people or those with high tone (people who feel like their eyeball will pop out if they even think about touching their toes).
On the physical level:
Pilates does this by strengthening the core muscles of the body. When I say ‘core’ here, I mean so much more than the crunches and clams that people normally think of when someone says Pilates. It teaches you where the core is, what it does and how to correctly engage it. It also teaches you where the neutral positions are – in the spine and the rest of the body.
Yoga allows you to connect with your body in various postures, encouraging you to understand for yourself what is happening in your own body. A yoga class will involve several postures (these are also called asana) that you either hold or fluidly move through.
Both of these forms of exercises can be done in a more relaxing or a more challenging way.
Used with Physiotherapy:
As a physio, I started my movement training with Pilates. Pilates complements physiotherapy beautifully and it helped me to better use exercises to help patients in the rehabilitation process. Movement is incredibly important in the healing process. It usually does return after an injury, but it can return very slowly and there are always compensations and weaknesses that develop in the process. I often use Pilates to overcome these compensations and weaknesses and get people moving WELL after an injury. This is why many people will have experienced Pilates as a ‘rehab’ type of exercise.
In terms of yoga, I was drawn to it because of the holistic approach to movement and the focus on the mind-body connection. The asana, or exercise, is only one small part of yoga. Yoga encourages a person to look at all aspects of their life and to find balance. This is also essential to consider when your hope is to help someone heal.
All of that being said, I believe that finding the right teacher and class is as important as deciding what exercise to do. If the teacher has valuable knowledge that they are able to communicate with you, in an environment where you feel guided and supported, then it doesn’t really matter what kind of movement you do.
I love both of these forms of exercise and, as with many things to do with the body, there isn’t a straightforward answer when it comes to which one a person should or shouldn’t do. I would say you don’t have to pick one, do both.