Yoga vs stretching: which is better for you?
Yoga both stretches and strengthens the muscles and tendons of your body. It also promotes better mental health and resilience. In contrast, stretching targets specific muscles to loosen them before or after exercise. It also plays a key role in recovery after injury or surgery.
Daily stretching has remarkable benefits. Read on to explore these benefits, and also work out what is the better choice for you: Yoga or stretching.
The benefits of stretching for the body and mind & why you should stretch every day
Stretching is a natural and instinctive activity. Who doesn’t like the occasional stretch upon waking up or after some hard work! And who has not seen an animal stretching out and yawning blissfully.
Daily activities that increase muscle tension
Many people spend a large part of their day sitting at desks. As a result, every muscle in the front of the body contracts from the shoulders to the hips. Is this you?
Other people, such as construction workers, weight lifters or runners work their bodies hard every day. As a result, some of their muscles become very tight.
We also tend to forget that stress contributes to tension in our bodies. Often we are not even aware of this.
Daily stretching is a great way to open up our bodies, balance, and relax.
Physical benefits of stretching
Stretching has many benefits, including:
- better flexibility
- reduced injuries
- reduction of scar tissue, making muscles more pliable
- increased circulation and blood flow
- reduced muscle soreness after workouts
- a more relaxed body and mind.
Overall, the more flexible you are, the better you will feel. You will handle everyday tasks and much more easily. You will also be able to explore other activities that you love.
But don’t think stretching is only for athletes and dancers. It’s for everyone, young or old, sick or healthy.
Mental benefits of stretching
We think of stretching mainly as physical exercise.
But stretching has mental benefits as well. Improved blood flow stimulates the brain and helps the release of endorphins. These act as natural painkillers.
Stretching also reduces anxiety and stress and helps release negative emotional energy.
The importance of the breath in stretching
When you hold your breath during stretching, muscles tense up. Regular breathing helps muscles relax and get the full benefit of stretching.
So – keep on breathing!
Yoga vs stretching: what are the major differences?
Yoga and stretching have similar benefits for flexibility at a physical level.
However, stretching and yoga are not the same thing. So what are the differences?
The word “stretch” is often associated with yoga.
Most basic yoga poses stretch and strengthen at the same time. Each pose targets a different area of the body. Different yoga poses in sequence will deliver a whole-body workout and improved flexibility.
Yoga also stretches your mind. Breathing exercises and meditation play an important role in this, with benefits for mental balance and resilience.
Yoga will stretch your body and mind whether you want to or not!
All up, yoga will deliver better allover flexibility, strength, mobility, balance, coordination, and concentration.
There are many different types of yoga, so aim to find one that best matches your personality and ability. Some yoga practices have a heightened focus on stretching, especially Yin and Hatha Yoga.
It is well worth it taking the time to get into it and enjoy it.
Stretching as an exercise
Stretching is a form of exercise with the specific goal of improving flexibility. It is therefore much more intentional and targeted.
Stretching exercises aim to elongate specific muscles or tendons. Gentle but persistent force is applied until critical resistance is achieved. Through repetition, this is gradually extended.
Stretching requires caution to ensure that muscles, tendons and ligaments are not overextended or injured.
People often stretch before or after workouts to loosen tight muscles and tendons. Stretching can also target specific forms of exercise such as jogging, athletics, or gym workouts.
As stretching can be painful, it’s best to stay relaxed and breathe calmly for maximum benefit.
Overall, stretching increases the flexibility of muscles and tendons and the mobility of joints. It also plays an important role in athletic performance and injury prevention.
Note: not all types of stretching are thought to be beneficial – in some cases, it can lead to a weakening of muscles. Newer methods of stretching are emerging that are based on movement.
Further, for serious and professional sports people, a stretching program needs professional input.
Stretching vs yoga: which suits you best?
In the end, the decision between yoga and stretching comes down to your interests and goals. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Are you a Yogi at heart and interested in practicing poses, breathing, and meditation? YOGA
- Do you want stretching to be an integral part of your exercise regime? YOGA
- Do you want to be flexible all over? YOGA
- Are you primarily interested in sports such as running or weight lifting and looking for specific stretches to support that sport? STRETCHING
- Are you sore or injured and need to gently stretch specific muscles or tendons as part of a healing process? STRETCHING
These questions will give help you clarify what your answer will be.
The benefits of doing yoga & stretching together
It’s easy to see how yoga and stretching can complement and enhance each other.
For athletes and sportspeople deeply engaged in their sport, yoga has an excellent balancing effect. It provides all-over, deep stretching, together with all the other benefits of yoga. This includes mental relaxation and stress relief.
Similarly, selected stretching exercises can support your yoga practice. This applies particularly, particularly when the body is overworked or an injury is present.
Check out this simple yoga standing stretching routine below.
Can yoga replace stretching?
The answer is: it depends.
Regular yoga will increase your body’s overall flexibility, mobility, and balance. As a result, day-to-day activities and other sports you practice will become easier.
Some yoga styles are better than others for stretching. For example, Yin and Hatha Yoga aim to reach deeper tissues, by holding stretches for longer. They also often use props such as pillows, blocks, and bands.
Other yoga styles, such as restorative yoga will very much relax your body and mind. However, they will likely not stretch your body much.
Therefore, the choice of yoga style is critical.
In some instances, yoga cannot replace stretching fully. This the case for example if you want to target specific body areas that suffer from stiffness or injury.
Similarly, yoga cannot replace a stretching program prescribed by a physiotherapist or other medical expert. An example is an exercise program following a knee replacement operation.
What should you do first: yoga or stretching?
Again, the answer is: it depends.
Do you have an existing injury or feel stiff from other activities? Stretching before yoga will facilitate movement and prevent further damage.
Or, have you just completed a really tough yoga class? In such an instance, stretching after yoga will also be valuable.
Should you stretch before yoga?
Many yoga classes have gentle introductions, including breathing, warm-up and stretching exercises. The exercises are usually enough preparation for the yoga class that follows.
However, if you plan to hit a yoga class that will tax your body, stretching and loosening muscles before you start will be beneficial, and probably after as well.
Yoga vs stretching: conclusions
Overall, stretching is an important yet often neglected component of a healthy lifestyle. That’s why stretching is often called the “best exercise we never do”.
Stretching forms an integral part of yoga. Almost every yoga pose both stretches and strengthens. Therefore, yoga is great for overall strength, flexibility and balance. Yoga also provides important mental and spiritual benefits that few other forms of exercise deliver.
Stretching exercises are more physical and target specific parts of the body. They are mostly used to support other forms of exercise and also for therapeutic and healing purposes.
The choice between yoga and stretching in the end comes down to personal choices, goals and also circumstances. Both yoga and stretching can be done in combination to enhance healing and performance.
Other articles of interest
- The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Your Yoga Style
- Finding The Right Type Of Yoga For You: A Road Map
- 15 Essential Yoga Tips For Beginners
- 10 Qualities Of A Yoga Teacher You Should be Looking Out For
- How To Fit In Yoga When You Are Busy: 12 Essential Tips