Somedays you can be stretching after a run, sitting wide legged and giving the inner hips a nice stretch. The next day you can be sitting in a Yin yoga class doing the very same movement, wondering what makes one pose yoga, and one pose simply stretching.
Can we unintentionally be doing yoga, and what defines a yoga pose? Is it the pose or the intention?
Stretching Versus Yoga
At first glance, the difference between stretching and yoga can appear hazy. Especially Yin yoga can feel more like deep stretching, which of course it is. In Yin yoga, we stretch the connective tissue, such as ligaments, joints and fascia. We marinate in the long held poses and feel the body open up. So are we just stretching for an hour?
When we are just stretching the body, we are focusing merely on the body, on the outer shell, on the muscles and on the frame of what makes our physical posture. We do it to improve the muscle tone and flexibility. There is no focus on the mind, and we can watch TV, be active on social media or talk on the phone while stretching. We are treating the body as a separate entity from the mind and from the rest of us.
But just like Yin, yoga takes us a level deeper.
The Internal Nature of Yoga
When we engage in the activity of yoga, we are stepping on a spiritual path aimed at the overall wellbeing of the body, mind, and soul. In yoga, we are using the physical postures to help us in getting to a unity of the mind and the body. We have the intention to try and experience a glimpse of peace and tranquility as we set on this path of finding our truest self.
When we think about the difference between stretching and yoga, we can easily observe how much yoga is an inside job. In fact, most of yoga is internal. In the eightfold path of yoga, asana is only one of the steps.
Asana (the different body postures) are used in order to prepare ourselves for the more spiritual steps to come. Asana prepares the body to become strong and flexible in order to enjoy the meditation, which in turn takes us towards bliss, Samadhi. Strong and focused mind can only reside in a strong and healthy body.
Yoga targets your whole being, and ultimately your whole outlook on life. ~Kaisa Kapanen
We use the breath to act as a bridge between the body and the mind, uniting these two into a coherent whole. In yoga, the body is a beautiful instrument for reaching a higher goal, but the body or what the body does, is not the goal itself.
Follow Your Intention
The energy flows where the intention goes. Just striking a pose will not make something yoga, no matter how you twist your body. Your intention defines the meaning of your practice.
Both stretching and yoga are beneficial activities, and there is time for both in life. One day we may want to just stretch the physical body and enjoy the sensations. On another day, we may want to experience something more. This is the time to turn to yoga.
Be mindful and aware of your intentions, and enjoy the process either way!