Yoga and Pilates are fitness practices that traditionally include poses and movements that are slow and deliberate. Both forms of exercise can be practiced in class or alone, and both are enhanced by the use of a mat. The form of yoga that most people are referring to when they mention yoga as exercise is Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is a series of poses that strengthen the entire body with focus on breathing and balance. Pilates is a system of exercise that strengthens the entire body through a series of poses and movements with special focus on the core muscles.
Yoga, a collection of poses or asanas, is a popular form of exercise that is practiced in many variations. Whether you prefer slow yoga, power yoga, meditative yoga or another hybridized yoga practice, the basic structure is the same -- movement from one held asana to another with emphasis on the breath. Some poses, such as "downward dog," require you to balance with both hands and feet on the mat while your hips are pointed toward the ceiling. Other poses, such as "child's pose," require you to lie face down on the mat with knees tucked under you.
Yoga mats are thin -- typically about 1/8-inch thick, which is thick enough to protect you from the hard floor and thin enough to provide stability. Some mats are 1/4-inch thick, but it can be difficult to balance on a mat this cushy. The most common mats are made of PVC, also known as vinyl, but some are made of jute, bamboo, latex or cotton.
Pilates is an exercise system developed and introduced to the United States by Joseph Pilates. Originally developed for dancers to improve their core -- abdominal and back muscles, sometimes called the "powerhouse" -- Pilates exercises aim to provide a total body workout that improves strength, flexibility, coordination, posture and balance. Some poses and movements are done in standing position, but many, such as the "teaser," are done in seated or semi-seated positions on the floor. And one of the more common movements, called the "roll over," requires you to lie on a mat and roll onto your spine. A cushy, Pilates mat is necessary for comfort and to prevent bruising.
Pilates mats are typically made of TPE -- thermal plastic elastomer -- but they are also made of rubber. Standard Pilates mats are 1/4-inch thick and professional quality mats can be more than 1/2-inch thick. Because mats are so thick, they are usually stacked for storage instead of rolled.
Aline Lindemann is a health, food and travel writer. She has also worked as a social worker, preschool teacher and art educator. Lindemann holds a Master of Liberal Studies in culture, health and creative nonfiction writing from Arizona State University.