yoga stretching exercise

Yoga vs. Stretching: What’s the Difference?

Published on January 16, 2020

Yoga and stretching can look and feel similar but they are two very different practices. Stretching exercises are only focused on increasing flexibility. While yoga does involve holding static stretches, this is only one component of the practice. Yoga and stretching do have a few overlaps, but they should play separate roles in your fitness routine. Although both exercises relieve the tightness in your muscles, improve posture, and help prevent injuries; you perform stretching before or after a good workout session, while yoga is considered a complete workout that includes strengthening exercises. Yoga is a training regimen for the mind, body, and soul. Stretching is a fitness regimen for the spine, muscles, and joints.

The differences between yoga and stretching exercises

Yoga exercises are recommended if you are wanting to boost both mental and physical health. A regular yoga practice has been shown to enhance your emotional wellness, mental clarity, and overall sense of health. Yoga also encourages you to activate and strengthen the inner environment of your mind and soul which encourages a deeper spiritual connection. A typical yoga class can last between 60 minutes to 90 minutes and is considered a complete workout.

Stretching exercises are usually performed before the start of the exercise program or after a short warm-up. You will also want to do some stretching exercises after your training or workout to cool down and prevent muscle stiffness. These exercises can last 5-10 minutes based on the muscles you want to stretch and your physical ability. Stretching exercises help to improve your posture, flexibility, and circulation. Stretching by itself is not considered a workout.

There are a few other ways of how yoga and stretching exercises are different. Stretching exercises focus on the major muscle groups while yoga is usually done with less emphasis on the larger ones (there are even facial yoga exercises!). The emphasis on breathing, mental focus is quite different between the two and yoga requires some specific equipment.

• Breathing Practices

Yoga has specific breathing exercises called pranayama that are practiced with the poses. You are expected to use a full, deep diaphragmatic breath throughout the program unless directed otherwise. Yoga instructors will often tell you when to inhale or exhale, and this instruction will be linked to the yoga movements. Sometimes you will even be asked to hold your breath in yoga.

In stretching exercises, you just breathe normally when doing them and there are no special breathing instructions given.

• Mental Engagement

Physical exercises or asanas in yoga and stretching practices increase your flexibility, strength, and coordination. However, the meditation part and breathing techniques in yoga calms and focuses your mind, thus reducing anxiety and developing greater awareness. Many of the yoga postures require specific anatomical alignment which creates a high level of proprioception and greater consciousness of the physical body.

• Skill, Ability, and equipment Needed

Both yoga and stretching are recommended for every person; however, because of its workout component, yoga requires different levels of physical ability. For instance, you may take several years to achieve given poses, while others may be impossible until your body develops a given level of strength and openness. Yoga classes can range from beginner to advanced while stretching exercises do not have many prerequisites. People of all fitness levels can do basic stretching, but a yoga program may need to be modified if you are obese, elderly or frail. You do not need any special equipment to practice stretching exercises but you will want to have a yoga mat and you may need some yoga blocks, blankets, and a strap to fully participate in a yoga program. The yoga poses can be complex and confusing so you may need to do some research on what are the essential poses for beginners to know before attending a class.

Choosing between Yoga and Stretching Exercises

You will need to consider the aim of exercising when choosing between yoga and stretching. Choose yoga if you want an extra workout since it gives you strength, breathing, focus, and awareness. Use a short stretching routine to improve your performance with your regular exercising program. If you are choosing yoga you need to factor in the extra time and the cost of the required equipment. You should definitely try out different types and techniques of both to discern which works best for you and moves you toward your fitness and life goals.

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5 responses to “Yoga vs. Stretching: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Gillian Forster Avatar
    Gillian Forster

    Wonderful writing,thank you!

  2. Nabeel Watts Avatar
    Nabeel Watts

    Please keep up the excellent work that you do. I really enjoyed knowing about all of the differences between yoga and just stretching!!

  3. Valerie Schultz Avatar
    Valerie Schultz

    Thanks, this was very helpful!

  4. Maria Clifford Avatar
    Maria Clifford

    Thank you for publishing this article, I am now a little less ignorant of the difference between yoga and stretching!

  5. Charlotte Thompson Avatar
    Charlotte Thompson

    I was always under the impression that stretching and yoga were pretty much the same thing. Now I know that yoga is a whole different ball game.

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Christine Heilbron Avatar
About the author
Christine has been teaching and practicing yoga, meditation, and mindfulness for over ten years. She has explored many different styles of yoga under local and international teachers. She is a graduate of a 200-hour yoga teacher training program and is certified to teach vinyasa, Hatha, and restorative styles of yoga and has additional training in trauma sensitivity. 
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