I've been doing stretching exercises all my life, but have never called them yoga. What's the difference anyways? Carlos M.
Sure, a lot of yoga is the physical. It’s getting on your mat, touching your toes, sweating a little bit, you know the deal. But we find ourselves doing a lot of “yoga stretches” out of the studio as well (baddhakonasana = ”butterfly stretch”, janu sirsasana = “stretch one leg out as the other one touches your crotch stretch,” etc.). For some people, it’s certainly hard to understand the difference between yoga and the stretching you do after a run or before a sports team practice.
There’s a whole lot more than lengthening your muscles that goes into yoga. Yoga puts a strong emphasis on breath. This obviously helps with relaxation and even meditation, but what a lot of people don’t know is that breathing can help you get deeper into your muscles. This constant focus on inhaling and exhaling helps you to pay more attention to your body and what it needs, so that you don’t overstretch.
Also, yoga isn’t just stretching. It incorporates alignment, strength, and balance; all things that help to us become more powerful and aware people. Just like lifting tons of weight without stretching isn’t really too effective, stretching without the elements of strength (and alignment, and balance) won’t do anything for you.
Whether you choose to take a yoga class or two to get your strength on, or simply do it on your own, be sure to pay close attention to what your body needs. Instead of deciding, “I NEED to touch my toes and I NEED to touch them NOW,” explore how it feels to ease into different postures. Keeping small bends in your knees to avoid hyperextension is important, just as keeping a healthy and aware mind is, on the mat and off. Sure, yoga helps us to bring awareness to our stretching, but all in all, I don’t think you need to call it yoga in order to stretch intelligently.