yoga vs pilates for moms with back pain

Yoga vs Pilates: Which is Better for Moms with Back Pain?

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As a young university student, I attended pilates classes with my friends as part of our compulsory physical education 😊 We were happy and healthy, I honestly did not care too much at that time about the benefits of these exercises, we were just doing what the pilates instructor told us and enjoyed the time spent together. 😊

I first started practicing yoga only because a new studio opened nearby offering beginner hatha yoga classes at a time that could fit into my schedule. I was curious and by then definitely needed some form of exercise, so it seemed to be a great idea 😊 And it was indeed! The yoga teacher was great, his explanations were easy to follow, and after the 10 occasion beginner exercise program I kept on attending his yoga classes. As I was mainly sitting during work, yoga helped a lot with my lower back pain, and the breathing techniques I learned became pretty useful in whatever stressful situation I needed to face later on. 

So I have some experience with both yoga and pilates exercises… I like them both, but as we are getting older, I have more and more friends facing back pain quite often (from time to time I have to deal with that too), now I have done some research on which can be a better choice for moms with back pain.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj,” which means to yoke or unite. The practice aims to achieve a state of balance and harmony in the body, mind, and spirit.

There are various styles and approaches to yoga, but most of them involve a combination of physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation, and ethical principles. Yoga is often seen as a holistic approach to well-being, promoting physical strength, flexibility, relaxation, mental clarity, and spiritual awareness.

The practice of yoga has evolved over thousands of years and has been adapted in different ways around the world. Some popular styles of yoga include Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, and Bikram, among others. Each style may emphasize different aspects of the practice, but they generally share the common goal of promoting overall health and self-awareness.

Benefits of Yoga for Back Pain Relief

According to the article in The Clinical Journal of Pain, entitled A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Yoga for Low Back Pain, yoga can have positive effects on back pain relief:

“This systematic review found strong evidence for short-term effectiveness and moderate evidence for long-term effectiveness of yoga for chronic low back pain in the most important patient-centered outcomes. Yoga can be recommended as an additional therapy to chronic low back pain patients.”

​What other benefits do yoga have that make it a good choice for busy moms to start regular yoga exercises?

  1. Improved Flexibility: Yoga involves a range of gentle stretches and poses that can enhance flexibility in the spine, hips, and surrounding muscles. Increased flexibility can contribute to better posture and reduced strain on the back.
  2. Strengthening Core Muscles and Abdominal Muscles: Many yoga poses engage the core muscles, including those in the abdomen and lower back. Strengthening these muscles provides better support for the spine, reducing the risk of back pain.
  3. Posture Awareness: Yoga emphasizes proper body alignment and awareness, which can help to develop better posture habits. Maintaining good posture is crucial for preventing and managing back pain.
  4. Stress Reduction: Chronic stress can contribute to muscle tension and back pain. Yoga incorporates relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and meditation, promoting overall stress reduction and a sense of calm.
  5. Increased Blood Circulation: Yoga poses and movements encourage blood flow to various parts of the body, including the back. Improved circulation helps in delivering nutrients to the spine and promoting healing.
  6. Release of Tension: Yoga encourages the release of tension in tight muscles, particularly in the back, shoulders, and neck. This can help alleviate pain associated with muscle stiffness.
  7. Mind-Body Connection: Yoga emphasizes the mind-body connection, encourages body awareness, and helps to listen to their physical sensations. This awareness can help prevent overexertion and reduce the risk of injury.
  8. Customization: Yoga can be adapted to individual needs and limitations. You should make sure that your instructor is aware of all your important health conditions.
  9. Increased Range of Motion: Regular yoga practice can enhance overall flexibility and range of motion, making daily movements easier and reducing the likelihood of straining the back.
  10. Promotion of Overall Well-being: Yoga is not just a physical practice; it also involves mental and spiritual aspects. A holistic approach to well-being can positively impact mental health, which in turn can contribute to pain management.

Working with a qualified yoga instructor can help ensure proper technique and guidance, which is especially important if you are seeking relief from back pain through yoga.

Types of Yoga for Back Pain

There are several types of yoga, each with its own focus and approach. When it comes to addressing lower back pain, certain styles of yoga may be particularly beneficial. 

These are some of the main types of yoga and how they can help with back pain:

  1. Hatha Yoga: Hatha is a gentle and foundational style of yoga that focuses on basic postures and breath control. It is suitable for beginners and can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance, all of which can contribute to alleviating lower back pain.
  2. Iyengar Yoga: This style emphasizes precise alignment and the use of props (such as blocks and straps) to support the body in various poses. Iyengar Yoga can be helpful for individuals with back pain by promoting proper alignment and reducing strain on the spine.
  3. Viniyoga: Viniyoga is a personalized and adaptive style of yoga that tailors the practice to the individual’s needs. It often includes gentle movements, breath work, and meditation, making it suitable for those with lower back issues.
  4. Restorative Yoga: Restorative yoga involves passive poses supported by props, allowing the body to relax deeply. It can be particularly beneficial for individuals with lower back pain, promoting relaxation, and easing tension in the muscles.
  5. Yin Yoga: Yin Yoga focuses on holding poses for an extended period, targeting the deep connective tissues. It can enhance flexibility and release tension in areas such as the lower back, hips, and pelvis.
  6. Kundalini Yoga: Kundalini incorporates dynamic movements, breathwork, and meditation. While it is a more energetic style, it can still be adapted for those with lower back concerns, promoting overall strength and flexibility.
  7. Gentle or Therapeutic Yoga: These styles are specifically designed for individuals with physical limitations or health issues, making them suitable for those with lower back pain. Gentle and therapeutic yoga classes often include modifications and props to ensure a safe practice.

Always inform your yoga instructor about any pre-existing conditions or concerns, so they can provide appropriate guidance and modifications.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century by German-born Joseph Pilates. It is a form of exercise that focuses on core strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness. Pilates is designed to improve posture, balance, and coordination while emphasizing controlled movements and mindful breathing.

Key principles of Pilates include:

  1. Centering: Pilates emphasizes the concept of the body’s center, often referred to as the “powerhouse” or “core.” Exercises are designed to engage and strengthen the muscles in the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks.
  2. Concentration: Pilates encourages mindful concentration on each movement, ensuring that exercises are performed with precision and control. This mental focus helps to develop a strong mind-body connection.
  3. Control: Movements in Pilates are deliberate and controlled, emphasizing quality over quantity. Exercises are performed with a focus on maintaining proper form and alignment throughout.
  4. Precision: Precision in movement execution is a key aspect of Pilates. Each exercise is designed to target specific muscle groups, and participants are encouraged to perform movements with accuracy and attention to detail.
  5. Breath: Pilates emphasizes coordinated breathing with movement. Proper breathing patterns are integral to facilitating efficient and controlled muscle engagement.
  6. Flow: Pilates exercises are often performed in a smooth, flowing manner. The goal is to create a sense of grace and fluidity in movement while maintaining control and precision.

Benefits of Pilates for Back Pain Relief

The benefits of Pilates include improved core strength, increased flexibility, enhanced muscular endurance, better posture, and a reduced risk of injury. It is often recommended for those seeking a low-impact form of exercise that focuses on building a strong and stable core.

Pilates is suitable for people of various fitness levels and can be adapted to accommodate specific needs or injuries. It is widely practiced both for general fitness and as a complementary form of exercise for rehabilitation and injury prevention. As with any exercise program, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting Pilates, especially if you have any existing health concerns.

Types of Pilates for Back Pain

There are different types of Pilates, and variations in equipment and approach can cater to various needs, including those related to back pain:

  1. Mat Pilates: Mat Pilates involves performing exercises on a mat without the use of specialized equipment. Many of the exercises in Mat Pilates target the core muscles, helping to strengthen the abdominal and lower back muscles. Mat Pilates classes may include a variety of movements that can be modified to accommodate different levels of fitness and back conditions.
  2. Reformer Pilates: The Pilates Reformer is a piece of equipment with a sliding carriage, springs, and straps. It provides resistance to various exercises, allowing for a full-body workout. Reformer Pilates can be adapted to focus on core strength, hip mobility, and spine stabilization, making it suitable for individuals with back pain.
  3. Clinical Pilates: Clinical Pilates is often prescribed or supervised by healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists or rehabilitation specialists. It is tailored to address specific musculoskeletal issues, including back pain. The exercises are chosen based on an individual’s condition and progress, ensuring a safe and effective approach to rehabilitation.
  4. Stott Pilates: Stott Pilates is a contemporary approach to the traditional Pilates method, emphasizing anatomical principles and modifications to accommodate different body types and fitness levels. Stott Pilates can be adapted for individuals with back pain by focusing on proper alignment, core engagement, and gradual progression.
  5. Yogalates: This is a fusion of yoga and Pilates, combining the flexibility and mindfulness aspects of yoga with the core-strengthening and stability elements of Pilates. Yogalates classes often include poses and movements that can benefit individuals with back pain.
  6. Pilates for Rehabilitation: Some instructors specialize in using Pilates as a rehabilitation tool for individuals recovering from injuries, including back injuries. These sessions are often conducted in smaller groups or one-on-one settings to provide personalized attention and address specific needs.

Yoga vs. Pilates Comparison for Moms with Back Pain

The good news is, that both yoga and pilates can be a great choice for all the moms out there suffering from back pain!

While yoga and Pilates share similarities in promoting mindful movement, breathing, and core strength, they differ in their approach to movement styles, broader focuses, breathwork techniques, and the use of specialized equipment. The choice between yoga and Pilates often depends on individual preferences, fitness goals, and health considerations.

You can check in this chart the comparison of yoga and pilates based on the following characteristics: movement, focus, breathing, and equipment.

yoga vs pilates for back pain

And some further, safety considerations to keep in mind while choosing your class and instructor:

  • Consult a healthcare professional: Before starting any new exercise program, especially if you have existing health concerns, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist.
  • Choose the right style: Select a yoga/pilates style that suits your fitness level and addresses your specific needs. Gentle and therapeutic styles are often recommended for individuals with lower back pain.
  • Focus on alignment: Paying attention to proper alignment in poses can help prevent strain on the lower back and promote a safer practice.
  • Listen to your body: Be mindful of your body’s limitations and avoid pushing yourself into discomfort or pain. Modify poses as needed, and communicate with your yoga/pilates instructor about any concerns.
  • Consistency is key: Regular, consistent practice is more likely to yield positive results. Be patient and give your body time to adapt and heal.


Nowadays, as a busy mom, I have less time (and choices) when it comes to self-care and exercise. What works the best for me is finding time for it early in the morning, before the others wake up 😅 For some of my friends afternoon, or evening classes work the best.

What I think is really important to to prioritize exercising and self-care and build time for either yoga or pilates in your (and your family’s) weekly schedule!

Make it a habit, so that you can fight back pain more easily 😉 

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