Is Yoga Just Stretching?

Many times we see Yoga instructors making posts criticizing anyone who dares and ask that question ( I myself have been guilty of that when it comes to questions about Pilates or Dance) but the truth is people are not always trying to offend us. They just might not know much about all the different methods and philosophies that promote better health and general wellbeing that are available in the modern world. That is why I decided to make this post, I think it is important to try and share as much information with people as possible so they can make an educated decision around what type of exercise routine best suits their needs.

We can understand Yoga as a physical practice that connects mind, body and breath. However, the practice of Yoga goes far beyond the routine of asanas (postures) we now see everywhere around the internet. The tradition of Yoga is linked to the texts of Yoga Sutra Patanjali which contains a series of eight steps (Eight Limb Path of Yoga) that together compose the Yoga practice: morality (yama), inner observance (niyama), physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises and energy movement (pranayama), control of senses (pratyahara), concentration and inner awareness (dharana), devotion and meditation (dhyana) and union with the divine (samadhi).

From that definition we take that there are more to Yoga than meets the eye. Even though I haven’t always been able to sustain my own practice of Yoga, I have recently started to study it more deeply and have been connecting to its teachings of meditation and discipline. In my recent studies and when in conversation with fellow instructors who teach the practice of Yoga, I have come to understand that the most important aspect of the practice is not the asanas (postures) in themselves but your connection to the practice and how much you can learn from applying yourself.

Apart from that, the Yoga practice has also a deep engagement with aspects of our physiology. That means that some of the postures and breathing exercises can help us recalibrate our inner process. Take for instance the practice of Uddiyana Bhanda which is a series of breath works and body locks that can help us manage the internal pressure inside our abdominal wall, massage the organs and better activate our intestines, among other things. Each posture in Yoga, or each breath work can be directly related to different aspects of our physiology which can promote an improvement in all our systems (cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, muscular, nervous, renal, reproductive, respiratory and skeletal).

Yoga can indeed improve one’s stretching abilities, but the benefits of Yoga far exceed this one selling point. It can stimulate you to challenge yourself and your body limits while promoting general improved body strength and stretch, improve breathing patterns and boost your immune system. And if you haven’t tried Yoga yet because you think is too easy, I would recommend trying it first! It can also be an extremely strong conditioning workout. But remember, muscle burn and pain is not synonymous with strength and muscle function. There are other aspects of our mind-body connection that need to be stimulate for a more holistic and integrated practice.

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