Beyond the Stretch

When you think about stretching your body what comes to mind? For many of us we envision bending over and touching our toes, a runner’s lunge, or a standing quad stretch. Maybe a yoga posture comes to mind like deep backbends. Whatever, you envision the stretch to be I’m sure the running theme is the body’s ability to move to a range of motion. Stretching after warming up and during the cool down phase of exercise is nothing new for many of us. In fact, some view yoga, Pilates and other mind-body exercises as just a series of “fancy stretches”. So why all the fuss? Isn’t it all the same? Let’s first take a look at regular stretching, the type that we typically see in gyms and health clubs. The history of stretching dates back over 10,000 years with the Greeks and Romans utilizing stretching to keep those in the military in tip top shape for war. The importance of stretching is still alive and well today in the fitness industry. According to the American Council of Exercise (ACE) some of the benefits of regular stretching include improved circulation, posture, and muscle tone. Regular stretching is usually done in preparation for some type of cardiovascular exercise and during the cool down phase in an effort to prevent injury. Those same benefits are available through yoga, Pilates and other mind-body exercises. You see, stretching is fact a part of yoga, Pilates, and other mind-body exercises however, stretching is not yoga nor can stretching be considered Pilates because the approach is different and there are philosophies and principles associated with yoga and Pilates.

As a kid I was always told to stretch before and after exercising and I learned how by watching others with minimal directions. However, with yoga it’s more important to know how to get into the pose versus the end result of how it physically looks. Regular stretching definitely has its place and the benefits are well worth the effort. Regular stretching tends to be more goal-oriented with a focus on the physical body whereas yoga places the emphasis on breathing, alignment, and balance. One of the most obvious benefits of yoga is increased flexibility however, the system of yoga is designed to bring the body and mind into balance with one another through proper exercise, correct breathing, proper diet, positive thinking and complete relaxation. There are various types of stretches such as static, dynamic, active, and passive just to name a few but they are not governed by a set of principles or a particular philosophy.

Let’s take a typical standing pose where you stand, and fold down to touch your toes. A regular stretch may have the goal of simply touching your toes in order to stretch the hamstrings. But with yoga every posture is a journey. You may hear verbal cues like, let your breath guide you, ground down through the four corners of your feet, lengthen through the spine, hinge from the hips, bend your knees if you need to and if you don’t touch your toes that’s okay. Because the breath is so important to the yoga practice with various types of breathing the benefits are not just felt in the physical sense but mentally and spiritually for many as well. Some even practice yoga solely for the spiritual and psychological benefits that are felt with consistent yoga practice. Pilates incorporates stretching and specific breathing techniques as well however, the focus is on the powerhouse – your core. Utilization of the deep abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor is essential to Pilates. All of the stretches in Pilates originate from the core and the movement is done at a faster pace in comparison to yoga. Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s as a conditioning program with six principles: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath, and Flow.

So whether you are doing regular stretches or you decide to move beyond the stretch by incorporating mind-body exercises like yoga, or Pilates into your fitness regime understand the difference as well as the similarities and embrace what suits you at this season in your life.

Here are just a few similarities and differences.

SIMILIARITIES/DIFFERENCES:

Breathing Techniques              Yoga       Pilates

Focus on Alignment                  Yoga      Pilates

Balance                                      Yoga      Pilates

Spiritual Component                Yoga

Physical Benefits                      Yoga      Pilates       Stretching

Mind-Body Exercise                  Yoga      Pilates

Set Philosophy/Principles        Yoga     Pilates

Appeared Organically in AFIYA Magazine