Yoga vs stretching – is there really a difference? And if so, which is right for you?
Even though yoga and stretching share a few similarities, they are two completely different things. Yoga and stretching have varying benefits for both your mental and physical health. And with that in mind, they will serve completely different roles in your fitness routine.
But before we can understand how each of these exercises will benefit your fitness goals, we have to know the key differences between yoga and stretching. Let’s talk about it:
Yoga vs Stretching Differences
Both yoga and stretching exercises can relieve tension in the muscles, promote flexibility, and engage the entire body. That said, many yoga poses and stretching exercises look quite similar, and they can both be integral parts of any fitness routine. However, this is where the similarities end.
Goals & Benefits
Yoga and stretching are inherently different things. Stretching involves lengthening the muscle until you reach its maximum length a.k.a. the point before it becomes uncomfortable or painful. In doing so, you release tension and increase your range of motion. Moreover, stretching also increases the number of muscle fibers that you can utilize when running or lifting, which is why stretching exercises are such an important part of every workout routine.
Yoga is a little bit different. When you do yoga, you are holding poses for a certain amount of time. This results in your muscles gaining strength as they are forced to hold the position for several breaths. Just like stretching, you are lengthening your muscles while doing yoga, but it involves more breathing, mindfulness, and a smoother flow of movement.
More importantly, yoga is a holistic discipline that aims to improve all aspects of one’s well-being, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Compared to stretching, regular yoga practice can help you achieve more health benefits, such as reduced stress levels, better flexibility, improved cardiovascular health, and clearer focus, among many others.
Yoga and stretching are also different when it comes to breathing techniques. Breathing in stretching focuses on inhaling as you extend your muscles and exhaling as you release the pose. This trains you how to breathe during actual exercise, which is also one of the reasons why you need to stretch before working out.
The breathing technique in yoga is more on breathing as deeply and as long as you can. Most yoga practices involve using a full, diaphragmatic breath with each pose. Sometimes, your yoga instructor may even ask you to hold your breath. That said, yoga involves a more specific breathing technique, whereas stretching is more like breathing normally.
Yoga vs Stretching For Flexibility
Both yoga and stretching exercises are effective for building flexibility, but yoga knocks it out of the park. Stretching is typically done for less than 10 minutes before and after a workout, whereas a yoga class is an entire workout in and of itself. To illustrate, most yoga classes go on for about 1 to 1.5 hours. And with that amount of time you spend lengthening your muscles, you will be more able to improve your flexibility.
Furthermore, yoga involves more complicated poses than stretching. Some yoga poses encourage your muscles to stretch like they have never stretched before. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve the same by stretching, but yoga makes it so much easier.
All that said, if one of your fitness goals is to become more flexible, doing consistent yoga workouts is the way to go.
Yoga vs Stretching For Back Pain
One of the most lauded health benefits of doing yoga is the reduction of back pain. We know what you’re thinking, “why put more pressure on your back if it’s already hurting?” Well, the answer is simple: doing yoga releases the tension from your stress-carrying muscles, which are commonly found in your lower back. Although it is common for a tensed-up muscle to be painful while you are stretching it, the resulting relief will be palpable.
In addition, practicing yoga increases the blood flow to your muscles, which also allows toxins to flow out in the process. Add that to breathing techniques that are central to yoga, and you will get to experience less pressure in your back, resulting in less pain.
Stretching exercises, on the other hand, can also help relieve back pain–albeit to a lesser degree. Stretching exercises that target the muscles in your back help reduce stiffness, which is similar to what happens when you practice yoga. But if you’re looking for a more effective, long-term solution to your back problems, regular yoga practice is highly recommended.
Pro tip: if you have existing back problems, use a yoga block for back pain to provide additional support for your back.
Yoga vs Stretching: Skills and Equipment Needed
Anyone can stretch and anyone can do yoga. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t flexible or strong; yoga is a practice that has varying levels of difficulty. If you are a beginner, start with a beginner’s yoga class that will involve easier poses until you can work your way up. As your body becomes stronger and more flexible, you will be able to do more difficult poses as your skills progress.
Similarly, you can do stretching exercises even if you aren’t flexible. Everyone has to start somewhere, after all. So, even if you can’t go deep into a stretch like more flexible people can, you are still getting the benefits of stretching.
When it comes to the equipment needed, all you need for yoga is a yoga mat. That is the basic requirement. But if you need more support, you can consider buying a cork yoga block as well. Or if you want to stabilize yourself while doing a standing pose, you can simply use the nearest chair.
Stretching, on the other hand, does not require any equipment. However, there are certain types of stretching equipment that can help you get a better or deeper stretch, such as stretch machines, leg stretchers, back stretchers, or stretch-out straps. Alternatively, you can ask your fitness trainer to help you stretch a little bit farther or deeper, depending on what your goals are.
Stretching vs Yoga: Which Is Right For You?
There is no hard and fast answer when it comes to which is the better exercise for you. Both stretching and yoga are important parts of any workout routine. For one, stretching is a necessary step before and after a workout–or even just for your daily routine. For example, stretching right after getting out of bed helps remove tightness in your muscles after laying in bed for so long. You can even incorporate stretching into your workday to help reduce back pain from sitting or standing for long periods of time.
Yoga, on the other hand, is a full workout that provides many physical benefits, such as improved flexibility, balance, posture, and strength. More than that, yoga can help with mental health due to the focus it puts on breathing techniques and meditation. When you do yoga, you are actively relaxing your body, which, in turn, relaxes your mind as well–so much so that you get to experience better mental clarity, focus, and calmness.
So, when you practice yoga, you are getting the benefits of stretching plus the additional physical and mental health benefits of yoga. That said, if a holistic approach is what you’re looking for, then the better exercise would be yoga. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate regular stretching into your routine as well.
Final Thoughts On Stretching vs Yoga
As you can see, there are many key differences between yoga vs stretching. Both of these exercises help increase flexibility, improve muscle strength, and reduce body pain. However, yoga involves a more holistic approach where the goal is to improve all the facets of well-being, including spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health.
If you are new to yoga, getting the right yoga mat is more important than it seems. With that in mind, don’t settle for a low-quality yoga mat that can defeat the purpose of yoga altogether. Instead, choose a high-quality cork yoga mat that will keep you fresh, comfortable, and focused for the entire session.
And if you need additional support when doing yoga poses, invest in an organic yoga block as well. You can find both of these and more at Pureful Yoga, one of the best online stores for organic yoga products.