Is yoga just stretching?
When people find out I’m a yoga teacher, I usually get one of two responses.
- I tried yoga, but I’m not flexible.
- Isn’t yoga just stretching?
I explained why yoga isn’t for the flexible. This is part two — the part where I tell you that yoga isn’t just stretching.
Yeah, we stretch.
There is a lot of stretching in yoga — more or less, depending on the style. Vinyasa has more movement while Hatha holds “stretches” a bit longer. If you’re only interested in yoga because you want to recover and stretch, you can find specific classes (usually called “Recovery” or “Restorative”) that do just that.
But yoga can be strength training, too.
I know some of you iron-loving readers are rolling your eyes right now. But if yoga wasn’t strength training, yogis (who do nothing but yoga) wouldn’t look like this:
Yoga is what you make of it, and there’s a practice for every need. Arm balances, handstands, warrior poses, chaturangas — all strengthening postures. I’ve noticed an increase in upper body strength from my yoga practice since I began adding arm balances to my practice.
And really, that’s not the point either.
Or maybe it is for you. And that’s cool. When I began yoga, it was all about fitness. (Read: It was all about being skinny.) But then slowly, I began to absorb what the teachers were saying. All that mindfulness and compassion and good yoga shiz.
Asana, the physical aspect of yoga, is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. It’s the limb of yoga that Western culture has embraced the most, but many friends in the East would say that it’s one of the least challenging aspects of yoga.
Yoga is a big word. It means so much. And it means something different for everybody.
Yoga can be what you need it to be.
Now I’m sure I have some yogis rolling their eyes. There is a lot of dogma in yoga. But I believe there’s room for everyone’s yoga. If you just want to come stretch and that serves you, great! If you want to come chant and have chakra talk — neat! Whatever’s your yoga jam, do it.
But please don’t say that it’s “just stretching."
Because that’s an ignorant statement. It CAN be “just stretching,” but it can also be so many other things. In fact, it can be a whole way of living.
As for me, yoga is a lifestyle. I haven’t embraced all the yoga principles — that would require that I give up coffee. And that ain’t happening any time soon. But I strive to live a present, mindful life ... and as a teacher, I hope to share some lessons students can take off the mat. Or not. 100% their choice.