Yoga vs Stretching – What’s The Difference?

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
Updated on October 26, 2020
Expert Content

What are some of the differences between yoga and stretching?

On the face of it, these two activities may seem somewhat similar, but that’s not the whole story.

We asked a group of selected experts to explain how they see the main differences (and similarities) between yoga and stretching.

Here’s what they said.

Yoga Offers More Benefits Than Stretching

Michelle Smith, Yoga and Meditation Instructor

The main difference of yoga to stretching is that yoga encourages a sense of mindfulness to the practice, bringing the participant to feel more connected with their mind and body.

Yoga not only encourages breath awareness, but also uses exhalations as a tool to guide muscle relaxation.

Hatha yoga, as a more active practice offering static, dynamic and balancing postures, cultivates both strength and flexibility to increase an individual’s range of motion.

A yoga practice will offer a greater range of benefits than stretching alone, including improved body awareness, increased mobility, reduced stress and clearer focus.

If you are looking to increase mobility and receive the most benefits for your time, yoga is the way to go!

Seated Toe Touches

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Yoga’s Benefits Extend Far Beyond The Physical Body

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Olympic Spine and Sports Rehabilitation

The goal of stretching is to improve the length of soft tissues, for example muscles, when there is a physical limitation of mobility, as well as to prepare an individual for sport or exercise.

While there can be psychological benefits, for example the confidence that comes with preparation before competition, the major benefit of stretching is augmentation of the physical body to decrease injury risk.

The goal of yoga is to learn and master ‘being in’ your body. This is accomplished by the simultaneous practice of mindfulness.

When practicing yoga, the individual should be aware of the various ways in which the perception of their body and mind change as they adopt different postures and maintain them for a period of time.

From this perspective, yoga has benefits that extend far beyond the physical body.

The similarities between yoga and stretching include learning to relax the body and mind while in different positions, as excess tension can negatively impact the physical, mental, and emotional benefits gained.

Both yoga and stretching help the individual get to know their body in deeper ways.

I would recommend stretching for those who participate in sports or exercise, as a way to improve flexibility and prepare for activity.

I would recommend yoga for those who want to improve their mindfulness and the awareness of their body, although there can be great physical benefits of this practice as well.

Yoga Is A Lifestyle And Philosophy

Michael Henri, Physical Therapist and Yoga Anatomy Teacher

Yoga is more than just stretching. Yoga is a lifestyle. A philosophy. A practice that extends beyond the mat.

Sure we do cool poses, and stretch our hamstrings at the same time, but Yoga itself is a much deeper subject.

What most of us in the Western World understand about Yoga is that “It’s like stretching, right?” Yes, that is part of it. But it’s so much more.

It’s a practice for your physical body, but also your mental and emotional body. The Physical practice is called “Yoga Asana”. Think of it as an artful way to express movement, and open up your body at the same time.

The “opening up your body” part, would be considered the stretching. When we stretch, we create space in our muscles and connective tissues, which consequently has many health benefits.

We can increase our flexibility using stretching, but what’s even more important is the different between flexibility and mobility.

Flexibility is your body’s ability to have an increase in range of motion. For example: Bending over to touch your toes. This would involve creating flexibility in your hamstrings.

Mobility, meanwhile, is having strength and control within that new found range of motion.

For example: Getting up from that same bent over position using strength and control and without pushing off the ground, or your knees.

Mobility = Flexibility + Strength + Control

Yoga is more the practice of mobility, while stretching is more the practice of flexibility.

As a first choice, I recommend a Vinyasa yoga class, as it will incorporate mobility (which also includes flexibility).

However stretching on its own can have its own benefits as well. Which makes it a great second choice.

In fact, there are yoga classes that focus mostly on long periods stretching for increased flexibility, like a Yin yoga class.

Yoga Class

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Both Yoga And Stretching Have Their Benefits

Donna Brown, Author and Certified Yoga Teacher

I currently teach two yoga classes a week, and I also run anywhere from two to three miles per day.

There are many similarities between yoga and stretching, as yoga involves stretching every muscle in your body.

Yoga classes include sequenced series of stretches for various parts of the body, for example starting with seated stretches progressing to standing stretches, and returning to seated stretches before ending the class with deep relaxation.

There are different types of stretches that are specific for various sports such as running, biking, and swimming that focus on specific areas of the body.

After a run, I usually head for a wall, and stretch my legs by pushing my arms into the wall and stepping as far back as my legs will reach for a great back and hamstring stretch.

Before a bike ride, I might focus on stretching my quads, as they are one of the main muscles involved in biking.

These stretches may vary, yet are often based on yoga stretches.

Regardless of the similarities and differences, everybody needs stretching and yoga for better flexibility, concentration, overall strength, relaxation, and especially for maintaining wellness and wellbeing!

Causes Of Tight Hamstrings

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Yoga Is About Building Long-Lasting Strength and Flexibility

Nicole Lombardo, Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach

Stretching is a very broad term. One can stretch in so many ways, for different lengths of time and at different speeds.

Yoga, although it also encompasses a wide array of movements, includes set poses and transitions that are intended to lengthen and strengthen the entire body.

I personally tell a lot of my patients and fitness clients to do (or at least try) yoga. Although I recommend stretches throughout my entire work day, yoga is a great way to stretch your entire body and then strengthen it in those new flexible ranges.

It is typically a guided class which might be more helpful and more fun than me telling someone to go home and do X, Y or Z stretches.

I love yoga because the intention is to build long-lasting strength and flexibility which is essential to the longevity of your mobility.

Many times throughout a yoga class, you move from a standing to a sitting to a laying down position. The flexibility and strength you need to do that is important to maintain throughout life.

All of the tools to maintain that are in a single yoga class. You simply stretching your hamstrings daily won’t have the same effect.

Static stretching

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Yoga Builds More Strength Than Just Stretching

Ashlee Van Buskirk, Founder of Whole Intent

While it is true that yoga and stretching are vaguely similar, they are distinctly different in a number of ways.

Both stretching and yoga help stretch out your body and relieve tightness within your muscular system. And yes, both exercises can help improve blood circulation throughout the body and they both engage your entire body.

Let’s also not forget that both yoga and stretching exercises can be done virtually anywhere. However, that’s essentially where the similarities end.

Stretching exercises involve holding a position for a few seconds, which ultimately helps improve your flexibility.

A yoga workout, on the other hand, is comprised of a variety of poses that are very distinctive and are more focused on building your strength rather than just stretching.

Yoga really focuses on the flow between those poses as, for example, you’ll transition after a few breaths from a Warrior II position to a Chaturanga pose.

These exercises are also different in terms of breath. In yoga, your breathing technique is central to your practice. Throughout all of your various yoga poses, you’ll be very focused on your breathing as it helps you center yourself and reconnect with your inner thoughts.

In stretching, you’ll often hold your breath instead of releasing it during your stretches. Yoga also pushes you to stick in the moment when things become uncomfortable or challenging. We all know how difficult certain yoga poses can be (the tree pose or the half moon pose).

The yoga practice pushes you to continue attempting the pose for as long as you can. Meanwhile, with most stretches, we tend to stop when it becomes too uncomfortable or complex.

In a similar vein, yoga also allows for more variations from the mundane or routine. In just about every yoga class, you’ll go about the practice in a different way with new exercises or poses to try.

With most stretching routines, we tend to follow the same basic stretches every time.

It’s difficult to recommend yoga over stretching and vice versa simply because it all depends on your own goals and both exercises offer benefits that anyone can enjoy.

If possible, we’d recommend that you integrate both yoga workouts and stretching exercises into your weekly workout routines to maximize the benefits.

However, if you’re trying to improve your strength and endurance, then you should definitely do some yoga at least once or twice a week.

On the other hand, if you’re solely interested in improving your flexibility, then just start stretching at least once or twice a day.

Yoga vs Meditation

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Yoga Brings Much More Than Just Physical Benefits

Hien Hong, Certified Yoga Teacher and Mentor

Yoga is an ancient system that involves mind, body, and spiritual practices originating from India. At its root, yoga is about finding spiritual liberation.

In the classic text, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the eight limbs of yoga which leads to spiritual bliss or oneness, Samadhi, are outlines.

Within the eight limbs, only one is posture, Asana. And posture here is described to help one sit and practice meditation, which precedes Samadhi.

Yoga postures, or Asana, dominate what we see as yoga in the West. It is here where we perceive yoga as stretching because yes, there are postures that include stretching. They include downward facing dog, pigeon pose and cobra pose.

It is how it is advertised to us and is what we often practice when we say we’re doing yoga. But stretching is only one teeny tiny component of a rich practice that requires self-study beyond the physical level.

In the eight limbs, controlled breathing techniques or Pranayama is another important element of the practice. Even while looking at yoga as purely a physical practice, it often includes a strong emphasis on breathing.

Stretching is about elongating muscles. Stretching feels good and keeps you flexible and healthy.

Physical therapists and other movement professionals help people stretch so they can be functional in their bodies.

I would never not recommend stretching. But yoga brings much more than physical benefits.

I recommend knowing exactly what yoga is, which is much more than postures, and then choosing to do whatever you need to stay happy and healthy.

If it feels too intimidating to go deeper into a practice like yoga, then stretch.

What To Wear To Yoga

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Apples And Oranges – Are They The Same?

Emmy, C-YI Portland Yoga Teacher at Celebrate Again

Yoga includes stretching but integrates many more elements than stretching only.

When practicing yoga, one is mindfully engaging their breath and energetic systems into the exercise to achieve specific results physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Conversely, stretching is commonly used to lengthen the muscle and to gain flexibility.

Apples and oranges are both fruit, but yield different flavors and textures. Both have a lot of crossover in nutritious qualities but still have unique properties.

The same is true with yoga. It can be quite beneficial to use yoga poses for stretching, for example, after a run or workout routine.

But the pairing of intentional breath with particular movement is what sets yoga apart.

Also, depending on one’s practice of yoga, a spoken mantra or specific mindful intent can be included to help engage not only the body but also the mind and heart.

Yoga truly has a different nutritional balance for one’s body than just stretching.

To say that yoga is only stretching would be oversimplifying.

For those who have experienced yoga taught well, a notable difference will be felt. Will you give it a try?

Most Calisthenics And Stretches Derive From Yoga

Kirana Kefalos, Board Certified MD Trained In Internal Medicine

Consider that most calisthenics and stretches derive from the ancient science of yoga.

From an Energy Medicine standpoint, all stretching is good for the body. Energy needs to move and needs space to move.

Stretching opens up that space and allows energy to move where it will. That’s why it feels good to stretch! And yes, stretching is good for the body.

Yoga takes stretching to another level. I practiced yoga with various teachers intermittently for 20 years with some benefits.

Later, I did stretches, aerobic exercise, weights and rebounding but I didn’t seem to progress much. My stamina didn’t improve, nor did my resting pulse come down no matter how much I pushed myself.

Then, two years ago I learned Isha Yoga, as taught by Sadhguru (East Indian yogi and mystic).

I am astounded and delighted by the improvement in balance, strength and stamina, along with decrease in heart and breathing rate manifested in my 64-year-old body. And, my emotional reactivity has diminished.

Just today I was at the pet store to purchase a large bag of pet food. I said to my husband that this must be a smaller size than we used to get as it feels so light. He said, “No, you have gotten so much stronger”.

Yes, yoga is really good for the physical body. More importantly, yoga, when done properly, activates the energies inside the body.

Cobra Stretch

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

A knowledgeable instructor will sequence the poses so that the life energy (chi / prana) moves in certain ways.

One of the goals is to move the energies up the chakras and awaken hidden awareness in the individual.

Unfortunately, this aspect is not found in most yoga classes in the US today. I have been doing the same two sequences of postures for the past two years. I do not tire of them.

They are a true adventure each time. One sequence is just 10 minutes long – although one can repeat it more times. The other sequence takes about one and a half hours to complete. It is best to complete the entire sequence.

As my instructor said, don’t walk around half baked! My physical and emotional wellness is at a new high. I never miss a day of my yoga practice!

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