Pondering the Stretch PostersFeb 08, 2023
The other day at the gym, as I was cooling down after my workout, I glanced over at these posters hanging on the wall. It struck me, again, how many of the stretches are similar - in some cases identical - to positions that I practice and teach as yoga.
It got me thinking, as I've done many times over the years, about the difference between stretching and yoga. What distinguishes yoga from positions practiced solely as physical exercises?
I think it’s more than attention to breath and mindful awareness.
Physical positions become yoga when they’re informed by an understanding of the human being as an integrated whole as described by the yoga tradition. I think of this as the inner posture of yoga, the mindset that allows us to bring the spirit and perspectives of yoga into a physical practice.
It’s not only about recognizing the impact that physical movement has on our minds, our energy, and our moods. After all, Western science, too, affirms these correlations.
Yoga offers a particular vision of how the different parts of ourselves are interconnected, and how we as individuals as part and parcel of a larger whole. In fact, the vast and varied streams of yoga philosophy provide many such perspectives to inform and enrich our practices.
Whether you call it a Supine Hamstring stretch or Supta Padangusthasana, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing yoga-related exercises as part of a workout, or using them for any of the many physical benefits they can bring.
Yet, without the philosophical context, even if it’s mindfully done, we might just be stretching our bodies.