Saturday, September 30

What is the Difference Between Yoga and Stretching

From a layperson’s point of view, there are many overlaps between yoga and stretching. However, even amateur practitioners know yoga is much more than simply stretching. The latter is just one of the tools used in yoga, along with breathing, mantras, meditation, introspection, etc.

While stretching is a vital aspect of any physical exercise, yoga is a holistic spiritual and physical practice — a full-blown discipline in its own right. For serious practitioners, it’s a way of life.

Although the list of overlapping qualities, characteristics, and benefits between yoga and stretching is quite long (see the table below), the list of things exclusive to yoga is considerable in itself, too.


Repairs/rehabilitates injures
Decreasing the risk of injury
Improves flexibility
Increases the range of motion of muscles and joints
Improves overall physical strength and endurance
Improves postural balance and stability
Relieves tightness in muscles
Can activate various muscle groups
Improves athletic performance
Improves body posture
Improves blood circulation
Releases endorphins and reduces stress
Improves breathing
Improves mental clarity
Can bring emotional balance
Can have a spiritual dimension
Reduces cortisol and blood sugar levels

Yoga and Stretching: The Common Ground

As we can see from the table, the common ground between yoga and stretching is quite large and shouldn’t be underestimated.

The first and most fundamental similarity between the two activities is that yoga — from a purely physical and reductionist point of view — can be considered a form of stretching (in a sense).

Some physical poses of yoga (asanas) are, more or less, muscular scratches, which, if done correctly, can relax and stretch muscles in your body that you never even knew you had.

And, if we were to browse the internet for yoga poses, we would see that some of the most famous yoga poses look the same as some of the most common stretching exercises. So, Janu Sirsasana is a seated hamstring stretch, Malasana is a squat, Virabhadrasana (Warrior I) is a high lunge stretch, Anjaneyasana is a low lunge hip stretch, and so on. Many more yoga postures are similar to basic stretching poses.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that we do not want to imply that the yoga poses are merely stretching exercises because they share the same kinematics. In yoga, the movement that brings the asanas together into a dynamic sequence and the execution of the asana itself is a very different experience from stretching.

So, given their common ground, it’s understandable why yoga and stretching share many benefits from their structural and physical similarities. Both are good for your body from a health perspective, as they improve flexibility and are great for rehabilitation and repairing injured muscles and joints.

Furthermore, they activate the whole body, enhance athletic performance, and improve body posture. Because of this, the two are commonly practiced by many professional athletes.

Finally, yoga and stretching improve blood circulation and decrease stress by stimulating the release of endorphins, which is great for everybody — whether they’re into sports or injured.

Yoga and Stretching: The Differences

While yoga and stretching share a lot of similarities, there are also considerable differences between the two.

The differences come from four distinct areas: physical, psychological, spiritual, and medical. Here are some of the most important contrasts between the two.

The Focus on Breathing

Although stretching also requires controlled breathing and may be compared to yoga on some levels, the teachings of yoga are qualitatively different and more advanced. So, breathing, or the training and exercise of proper breathing techniques, is one of the central tenets of yoga, making it distinct from stretching.

The regulation of breathing in yoga is called pranayama. The word is a combination of two ancient Sanskrit words, prana, which means “vital life force or energy,” and yama, meaning (in free translation) “to gain control.” Therefore, we can understand pranayama as an attempt to establish control over one’s bodily functions.

While practicing yoga, you should take full and deep diaphragmatic breaths unless your teacher says otherwise. They’ll tell you when and how to breathe with the poses and movements you are doing at the moment. Sometimes, they may even tell you to hold your breath for some time. So, every move you make, every pose you try, should be systematically linked to your breathing. Simply put, yoga teaches breathing awareness.

Mental Clarity, Emotional Balance, and the Spiritual Dimension

While stretching is a physical activity that helps you properly take care of your body, yoga is a physical activity that, in addition to the physical aspect, helps you properly take care of your mental health.

The breathing exercises that bring your awareness to your body also bring to the surface your unconscious emotions. For example, think of how the accumulated stress in everyday life affects your shoulders and neck. When people are stressed, they flex their shoulder muscles, and these areas become very stiff. Yoga helps the mind to gain awareness of these unconscious movements throughout the day and teaches you to relax your muscles in time to prevent pain.

Mediation is also integral to many yoga practices (but not all). Many yoga sessions end with a Shavasana, which sometimes can follow a similar pattern as mindfulness meditation. It involves focusing on breathing, acknowledging and letting go of thoughts, relaxation, and focusing on chakras (in some practices). Many yoga schools also dedicate special classes that teach solely meditation.

The main goal of yoga is to show that mind and body are one — they operate in sync, and we should view them as two independent systems.

We must not forget that the practice of yoga is approximately 5000 years old. It was originally practiced in the context of a complex interrelation of religion, philosophy, and ritual, and its primary goals were religious. However, today, very few practitioners view yoga as a religious dogma but rather as a holistic way to take care of the person as a whole.

Ability and Knowledge

Stretching is a variable activity that can last different amounts of time, depending on the goal.

On the other hand, yoga is a formalized activity where group classes usually last between 60 and 90 minutes. Individual practice can, however, take only 20-30 minutes.

Contrary to common misconceptions, yoga is not reserved for skilled professionals. Individuals of all abilities and flexibility levels embrace the practice. Yoga recognizes the vast diversity of human bodies and their varying degrees of stretchiness and offers adaptable variations that can accommodate each individual’s comfort during a session. Hence, just like stretching, yoga is an inclusive physical practice anyone can enjoy and benefit from.

Both yoga and stretching and quite minimal equipment-wise. For both, you usually need nothing but a yoga mat. Sometimes, you can also add yoga blocks, blankets, and a strap to your yoga practice. The main difference is that yoga is more like a sport, a practice with progression in which you upgrade your skills, while stretching is simply a tool used in most sports, including yoga.

Reduces Cortisol and Blood Sugar Levels

Another interesting thing about yoga — which you can’t get from stretching — is that it reduces the cortisol and sugar levels in the body.

The cortisol level rises after experiencing stress, which can be quite dangerous for your health. It can weaken your immune system, raise blood pressure, cause muscle weakness, and may increase the risk of diabetes. Practicing yoga regularly helps lower cortisol levels, thus helping combat such health issues.

The same goes for blood sugar. Yoga can immensely help regulate the sugar in your blood, thus preventing diabetes.


In this article, we tried to show that although yoga and stretching overlap in some aspects, they are substantially different. Simply put, yoga covers the space of stretching but adds much more qualitatively and quantitatively.

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