Here’s what a friend asked me, “Lora, what’s the different between stretching and yoga?”
Me: “Uh, hmm… can I get back to you on that?”
So, I’ve been thinking and reflecting on her question, “What IS the difference between stretching and yoga?”
When I was a child I was actively involved with gymnastics, which I now find curious given my interest in yoga. Gymnastics was great for me because I loved all the tricks we learned. It was a great feeling to accomplish a new move and also learn to execute moves with grace. I practiced gymnastics for most of my childhood and through high school and yet I don’t feel like it provided the benefits I’ve experienced with yoga. Both yoga and gymnastics do a lot of stretching though and at the beginning of each gymnastics session we’d spend a good 20 – 30 doing stretching alone to warm our bodies up.
So, what makes yoga different? Yoga too is about stretching, but in a way that’s completely different. I think the biggest difference I see is that in yoga the stretches are about slowing down, listening to your body, honoring your body, and simply being aware that you are in a physical body! There is something about this process, as quiet as it seems, that begins to quiet down some of the incessant mind chatter. Also, in these stretches and poses (asanas) you are breathing. This sounds obvious, but often times what is obvious isn’t so obvious. Simply put, breath is a gift. When you breathe consciously in a pose you begin to anchor yourself and a result you begin to get a semblance of balance: physical and mental. Now at first it’s really work to notice your breath and you begin to notice how often you hold your breath in a pose and in life. And you begin to see how holding your breath causes stress and undue tension in your body and mind. When you know this you start to use your breath as your friend and a guide. When you combine this conscious, diaphragmatic breathing in a pose you begin to marry body, mind and spirit. Yoga means union, to yoke. The asanas are just one component of the yoga path, but they begin to reveal to you how you are already whole: mind, body, and spirit. You begin to stretch into whom you really are, which is divine and wonderful!