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Health benefits of yoga and Pilates

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Yoga combines physical movements with meditation and calm breathing techniques.
  • Pilates involves a series of repetitive body moves with a breath technique to enhance correct movement and coordination.
  • Regular yoga and Pilates classes improve your muscle strength, and balance and flexibility skills.
  • An instructor can change yoga and Pilates moves to suit all ages and fitness levels.
  • If you are new to yoga or Pilates, take classes with a certified instructor to learn the correct movements and to help avoid injury.

What are yoga and Pilates?


Yoga is an ancient exercise and wellbeing practice that originated in India. Yoga is a physical activity which focuses on building your body’s strength and flexibility. You do this by moving into different poses. Yoga involves calm breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditation to help improve your wellbeing.

A full yoga session is a whole-body workout suited to all fitness levels. There are different yoga types that involve a range of gentle to strong poses. The most popular styles of yoga are Hatha, Bikram, Iyengar and Vinyasa. Asana is the name for a pose in yoga. You perform the poses (asanas) lying down, standing up, sitting or upside down.


Pilates is a type of exercise that involves a series of repetitive body movements. The moves help to improve your muscle strength, balance, flexibility and posture. An instructor can design a Pilates session to be easy to difficult and to suit all fitness levels.

You can do Pilates on a mat using your body weight and small props (such as ball or resistance band). You can also do Pilates on equipment. One of the most common pieces of equipment is a reformer. A reformer is a bed-like frame with a sliding carriage, springs and pulleys to create resistance during your workout.

What are the health benefits of yoga and Pilates?

Yoga and Pilates are ideal exercises to add to your weekly fitness routine because of their health and wellbeing benefits.

Posture, strength and joint pain — Consistent yoga and Pilates practice improves your body’s posture. Good posture helps to prevent back pain, muscle aches and other pains. Pilates focuses on strengthening your core muscles which may help to protect against injuries such as falls.

Mental wellbeing — Yoga and Pilates promotes mindfulness and unique breathing techniques to help improve your mood, make you feel relaxed and stay focused. Mindfulness and relaxation can form part of the treatment of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. You can include yoga in a mental health wellness plan. Speak to your doctor about this.

Asthma — You become more aware of your breathing with the breathing exercises used in yoga practice. Some people find this helpful for managing their asthma symptoms.

Injury recovery — Pilates has a strong emphasis on repeating moves that correct your posture and align your body. This attention to the correct technique helps with muscle weakness when recovering from an injury. Let your instructor know if are recovering from an injury. They can adapt the movements to suit your personal circumstances and abilities.

Who are yoga and Pilates best suited to?

Yoga can be especially helpful if you have tight muscles or poor flexibility. When starting out, it is best to attend a class with a qualified instructor. Let the instructor know if you are a beginner or have an injury. Make sure you do the exercises correctly to avoid causing or worsening an injury.

Pilates is beneficial if you are looking to strengthen and tone your muscles. Pilates can help you to perform better in other sports by developing correct alignment and improving strength. As a result, you may also find that Pilates improves your performance in aerobic sports such as cycling or swimming.

If you are pregnant, you can still take yoga or Pilates classes. But you should make changes to positions and moves. Learn more about yoga and Pilates when you are pregnant, on the Pregnancy Birth and Baby website.

How do I start yoga and Pilates in a safe way?

When you first begin to practice yoga or Pilates, it is important to start slowly and practice regularly. Gradually build up your repetitions, focussing on technique, until you feel comfortable with the movements.

There are many yoga and Pilates mobile applications and online videos you can watch. If you are a beginner, have an injury, or health condition, it is better to start off attending in-person classes with a qualified instructor. This will help to ensure you are doing each exercise correctly.

What equipment do I need for yoga and Pilates?

For yoga and mat Pilates, you will need an exercise mat, a small hand towel and comfortable clothing. Some studios (gyms) may ask you to wear clean socks while exercising. If this is the case, make sure you wear slip-resistant socks. You may also need to use props throughout the class, for example, small balls, yoga blocks, hand weights and Pilates rings.

If you are taking part in a Pilates reformer class, you may not need a mat or any other equipment.

You should avoid wearing jewellery that dangles such as bracelets, earrings, necklaces, or anklets.

Speak to the studio staff to find out what you will need for the session you are attending.

How do I avoid injury while doing yoga or Pilates?

You should warm up and cool down, especially in cold weather. This will reduce your chance of muscle or ligament injury.

If you are a beginner, your Pilates instructor may ask to assess you at the start of your class. They will check if you need to change any techniques to prevent injury, and give you additional support during the class.

If you are doing a Pilates reformer class, you will need to adjust your reformer machine to suit your height. You should learn about the different springs and how they adjust before the class begins. If you are a beginner or have an injury, you may need to do a one-on-one session so an instructor can assess you properly.

It is a good idea to have a bottle of water handy, to prevent dehydration. If you are doing yoga or Pilates outdoors, do not forget to cover up with light, flexible clothing and wear sunscreen.

How do I stay motivated while doing yoga or Pilates?

Set a goal — whether it be mastering a difficult position or committing to several workouts a week, once you meet your first goal you will become motivated to set more.

Arrange to go with a friend — this will encourage you to not skip your workout because someone will be counting on you to be there too.

Use an app to track your progress — share your completed workout with your friends so you can motivate each other.

Try a range of classes — most yoga and Pilates studios offer a range of classes. Going to different classes at different times can help keep your exercise interesting, and prevent you from getting bored.

Where can I find yoga and Pilates classes or instructors?

To find a qualified yoga teacher, a good place to start is the Yoga Australia website. For Pilates, try the Pilates Alliance Australasia. Each yoga or Pilates centre may offer different classes — such as reformer or mat Pilates — or specialise in a certain type of yoga. Some centres will also offer private classes tailored to you.

The Australian Government has a list of mobile applications that includes instructional videos and other digital resources for yoga and Pilates.

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