Yoga vs. Stretching

Though I haven’t taken a yoga class at a gym, I know people who have. I also know yoga instructors who have taught at gyms. In this venue, participants are generally looking for some warm up or cool down, or an alternative to an aerobics or a spin class. Nothing wrong with wanting a “yoga butt”. The postures have many physical benefits, and an experienced and responsive instructor will know where to take the class, in asana and in philosophy.

Vinyasa and Power yoga classes certainly challenge many practitioners on a physical level. Depending on the student, they may tap into the philosophy during class, or they may be tapped out and be doing all they can with just the physical aspects of the postures. And that in itself is a yoga practice! That’s not to say that Restorative or Yin yoga is “easy” or that they can’t challenge a practitioner like Vinyasa and Power. In my experience, students will attend a Bikram class or a yoga session at a gym when they want the benefits of a physical yoga practice, but may not be interested in what else yoga can offer.

The postures came about as a way to release energy from the physical body so that it would sit still for meditation. Meditation is a way for the practitioner to train the monkey mind to sit and stay. When that happens, the meditator may recognize who and what they really are. And if that doesn’t occur, settling our mind, watching our thoughts, realizing that we don’t have to be led around by our thoughts, and being able to focus our attention on one point are all benefits of a meditation practice.

In a yoga class that involves more than “just stretching”, the philosophy of yoga becomes a point of focus. The postures and the mat are simply a way and a place to “practice yoga”. Once a student has enough experience in trying out a few of the tools and techniques on the mat, they are invited to try yoga “off the mat”. Waiting in line at the store, being stuck in traffic, or dealing with an irate family member or employee gives us the “mat” to “practice yoga”. It allows us to take what we’ve been introduced to or have practiced in class, and try it out, like a science experiment, in the real world. Yoga offers us the opportunity for both a physical practice and a philosophical one.

Stretching that we get at a gym moves the physical body, and we reap the benefits of that. Yoga that we get from an instructor that includes the philosophy of yoga (added to the postures) opens up myriad possibilities for us to live a more artful life. Which one we choose depends on where we are in our lives, and what brings us to the mat. There are people I know that have taken yoga classes for years, yet admit that they only go for “the exercise”. Then there are those who attend one yoga class and have found a home.

I attended a few yoga classes here and there before I found the studio where I earned my 500-CYT, and a couple of years later, became certified in Yoga Nidra. During this time, I wrote several poems about my experience. They became a project titled Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I. You can read a few on my website:

What do you prefer, stretching, or yoga?