Yoga Vs. Stretching: Understanding The Differences
There’s a common misconception that yoga is just stretching, and in a sense, it is. This is because each yoga pose is a stretch, but there is so much more to both yoga and stretching than meets the eye. Both are incredibly beneficial, but which is better? And how are they truly different?
We get into everything you need to know about yoga vs. stretching below:
To understand the difference between yoga and stretching, we first have to understand each of them individually.
There are three main types of stretching:
- Static: Static stretching is when you stand, sit, or lay down while holding a stretch for a specific muscle or muscle group for 10 to 45 seconds—for example, a standing quadriceps stretch. This type of stretching should be done after every workout to help the muscles cool down and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
- Dynamic: Dynamic stretching, otherwise known as active stretching, is a form of movement-based stretching that prepares the muscles for action by activating and warming them up—for example, lunges with a twist or bringing knees to chest. It’s different from static stretching in that the stretches are not held for a long period of time.
- Ballistic: Ballistic stretching is a form of intense stretching that uses bouncing movements to push your body beyond its normal range of motion. This type of stretching is not usually recommended as it moves the muscles farther and faster than they may be used to, which can cause more harm than good.
Although it seems simple enough, knowing the right way to stretch your muscles can have a big impact on your recovery. lululemon Studio’s Stretch classes increase flexibility and help you destress.
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Yoga has many different types of practices, including yin, flow, vinyasa, Hatha, ashtanga, and more. While similar, there are small variations in the execution of the yoga poses.
Vinyasa, for example, is a fast-paced, active style of yoga that strings various yoga poses together in a sequence of constant movements. Gentle Yoga (also known as yin) is more passive, holding each pose for a long period of time.
All forms of yoga incorporate rhythmic breathing techniques that are used throughout each pose and sequence.
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When it comes to the yoga vs. stretching showdown, it’s important to understand the differences and similarities between the two. We get into the specifics below.
- They both improve flexibility, posture, and range of motion: Stretching and yoga both relieve muscle tightness and support good posture. At rest, tight muscles compromise your posture, which can lead to pain within the body—commonly in the neck, shoulders, and back. During activity, tight muscles are weak and have a shortened range of motion, which can lead to injury.
- They can both improve athletic performance: Yoga and stretching improve athletic performance the same way they help with flexibility and range of motion; when muscles are able to extend to their fullest ability, your body is able to perform its best in an athletic setting.
- They both have different types of practices: As we listed above, both have different styles. For example, yoga has yin, flow, vinyasa, Hatha, ashtanga, and more, and stretching can be done statically or dynamically.
- They both help with digestion and rest: Yoga and stretching both activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and digestive functions.
- They can both help with pain management: If you suffer from acute or chronic pain, both yoga and stretching can help alleviate some (or all) of that pain, depending on what’s causing it.
- They both promote blood flow: Stretching and yoga both promote blood flow through the body’s muscular system. When you stretch, your muscles and connective tissue are elongated. The blood vessels around the muscles are stretched wide to allow more blood to flow through.
- Yoga improves balance: Yoga helps improve your balance with many of the poses performed during a yoga class. For example, tree pose or crow pose both challenge your balance and the more you practice, the better your balance becomes.
- Yoga builds more strength than stretching: Yoga uses your body weight to support certain sequences or poses like warrior II and chair pose, which helps strengthen your muscles.
- Yoga classes challenge the entire body: Yoga workouts tend to go through a series of poses that incorporate the whole body, while stretching is often targeted to specific muscles or muscle groups.
- Yoga improves mental health: Yoga practices incorporate mindfulness through different breathing techniques, which help reduce stress levels and increase emotional wellness.
- They require different types of equipment: Yoga requires a yoga mat and (depending on the class) specific props such as blocks, straps, and bolsters. Stretching can be performed on any surface you have available, wherever you are. Stretching doesn’t require props but they can be helpful in assisting certain stretches. For example, a band can help someone with tight hamstrings perform a deeper hamstring stretch.
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The simple answer is that neither is better than the other. Which of the two is “better” for you simply depends on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, stretching is better for warming up the muscles before a strength training session and helping to reduce muscle soreness afterward. Yoga is better if you want to work on your balance, mindfulness, and combine strength training and stretching into one.
Both yoga and stretching can be done by people of all fitness levels. Which one you choose is up to you; however, yoga is considered more of a true “workout” than stretching, as it’s a more active process.
Stretching can be done on its own during rest days or paired with your fitness routine both before and after your workout.
When deciding which yoga class to choose, we recommend starting wherever feels right for your existing fitness level. For beginners, start with a 15 to 30-minute yoga class geared toward beginners to get a feel for the poses and build up your strength and endurance. If you’re more advanced, you can likely jump into a 45 to 60-minute intermediate or advanced class. Whether you choose Vinyasa or Gentle Yoga, lululemon Studio offers classes for all fitness levels.
Remember, even if you’re at an advanced fitness level, there’s still a learning curve when starting your yoga practice or doing yoga at home. This includes learning the different poses, their names, and rhythmic breathing. Luckily, lululemon Studio’s yoga instructors guide you through the workouts step by step so you don’t feel lost along the way.
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Yoga won’t completely replace stretching, depending on your goals. Dynamic stretching should always be done before a workout to warm up the muscles, and static stretching should be done afterward; however, if you were to take a restorative yoga class after a workout, this could have similar benefits to static stretching. Because yoga is usually a full-body experience, it’s also important to isolate stretches to target specific muscle groups that were used during a workout.
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Practicing yoga and stretching at home
You can limber up at home through online yoga and stretching classes. lululemon Studio offers Vinyasa, Gentle Yoga, and stretching classes for all fitness levels that you can stream live or on-demand.
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