Is Yoga Simply Stretching?

What usually comes with this myth is the implied notion that “that really can’t be much of a workout…” or “why would I pay money to do what I can do on the floor of my living room?” I get it. It can be hard to understand the difference between yoga and the stretching you do before practice or after a run.

Because, often, when you think about stretching, that’s exactly what you think of: hanging over your legs after a bike ride or touching your toes while watching TV. The truth is, there’s a whole lot more that goes into yoga than just lengthening your muscles. Yoga truly is an active process. It helps you practice mindfulness, live in the present, and increase your self-confidence—among many other benefits!

But for those of you asked to defend yoga to uninformed outsiders, it can be tricky to nail down the differences between yoga and stretching.

So, here are a few key differences between stretching and yoga:

  • Stretching is solely focused on flexibility. Yoga is a complete body, soul, and mind practice.
  • Stretching usually feels like something to rush through before getting to the next activity. Yoga brings relief, connection, and a sense of peace
  • Stretching simply lets you feel productive. Congrats, you checked that box. Yoga allows you to feel connected—to your mind, to life, and to others.
  • Stretching lets you stop before you become uncomfortable. Yoga asks that you stick with the uncomfortable sensations, pushing deeper and creating growth.

That being said, there certainly is a stretching component to yoga. The difference is that, while stretching certain muscles, you simultaneously engage others to maintain joint stability.

I’d also love to share a few tips to increase your stretching experience:

Pay close attention to what your body needs, not what you want. Rather than thinking “I need to touch my toes NOW,” explore what it feels like to ease slowly into different postures.

  • Keep small bends in your knees to avoid hyperextension.
  • Focus on your breathing to help you move deeper into your muscles.

But don’t just take my word for it. Come try out a class or two and start to see the benefits yoga offers beyond “just stretching.”

photo courtesy of Shannon Austin