At first glance, yoga exercises and stretching exercises seem to be very similar. Both are terrific stress reducers, and both will help you become more relaxed -- and who can't use more of that? Both help to improve posture, and good posture makes you feel good and look even better. And although yoga and stretching exercises share many positions and benefits, there are some important differences.
Both stretching exercises and yoga exercises -- usually called poses or postures -- involve bending, extending the limbs, twisting and reaching in order to elongate various muscles and open the joints. Stretching exercises are often performed before or after a workout. Yoga exercises are usually performed in a class or individually in a routine that involves strengthening, balance and relaxation techniques as well as stretching. Sometimes, as in a Bikram yoga class, the routine is a set series of certain postures; other yoga classes may vary the routine week by week.
Stretching exercises usually instruct you simply to breathe normally throughout the exercise, without holding your breath. In yoga practice, breathing patterns are an essential part of the pose; you are instructed specifically when to inhale and when to exhale.
Purpose of Stretching Exercises
Stretching exercises are an important part of any fitness program. Stretching is usually prescribed both before a workout (after a brief warm-up) and after a workout as part of a cool-down to prevent muscle stiffness. According to the American Council on Exercise, stretching exercises improve range of motion, circulation and posture.
Purpose of Yoga Exercises
The purpose of yoga exercises, according to many teachers, is to improve physical and mental health at the same time. According to Dinabandhu Sarley, writing for the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, "When practiced regularly, yoga reliably increases our sense of physical health, emotional well-being, mental clarity, and spiritual connection." The American Yoga Association expresses a similar idea: "[Yoga] brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience."
In both a stretching session and a yoga class you might bend forward in a seated position and reach your hands toward your feet, holding the position for 30 seconds to a minute. For runners, this stretch is helpful primarily for stretching the hamstrings, which can become tight while running. The yoga exercise equivalent is called Seated Forward Bend and is performed starting with a deep inhalation sitting up, then a deep exhalation while bending forward, and then breathing normally for up to three minutes while holding the stretch, feeling a greater stretch with each exhalation.
Patricia Rockwood has been a professional copy editor and writer for more than 25 years. She is an avid gardener with a certified Florida backyard habitat. Rockwood has practiced yoga for more than 40 years and taught for much of that time. She is also a professional mosaic artist.