Stretches are often considered a key feature of modern Yoga practices and are heavily associated with the Yoga Asanas (Yoga poses). Nevertheless, not all stretches are Asanas and not all Asanas are stretches.
Stretches and Asana
Typically, Yoga stretches are muscle and tendon elongations and depending on their use, certain parts of our body are affected.
An Asana is type of Yogic pose — which often includes some form of muscle elongation — but its function is much more than “just a stretch.” Asanas are basically designed to prepare the body for deep meditation, but they may also bring physical benefits, such as an improved balance and coordination.
Certain Asanas may also massage internal organs, purify the body, or enhance the respiratory system.
Types of Stretches
There are basically two types of stretches: static stretching, which is stretching that slowly brings a joint and muscle group to its maximum range of motion and holds it there for a longer time. It’s typically applied to structurally elongate muscles and tendons.
Dynamic stretching is another type of stretching exercise — movement-based — with the goal of increasing blood flow throughout the body and at the same time loosen up muscle cells and fibers. This type of stretches is often called warming-up stretches.
There are also other kinds of stretches, but those are rather specializations i.e. variations of either static stretching or dynamic stretching.
Goals and Health Benefits of Stretching
Stretches can structurally loosen up shortened and tight muscles, tendons, vessels and nerves, open-up and mobilize joints, and with that stimulate and improve our body’s range-of-motion capabilities, and our immune and circulatory system.
Our circulatory system — typically our blood and lymph circulatory system — supplies body tissues and cells of oxygen, antibodies, and other vital nutrients and agents, it transports hormones, and removes waste products i.e. detoxifies. Without a proper functioning circulatory system we get seriously ill, or at the minimum suffer from various health disorders, discomforts, or diseases.
Regular and structural stretching keeps our muscles strong, long, open, receptive, elastic and flexible, and this, apart from the benefits already mentioned above, achieves muscle tone, prevents muscle and joint injuries and joint pains, prevents squeezing of nerves and associated pains and disorders, and improves standing, moving and postural balance.