“yoga is just stretching, right?”
the goal of the physical component of a yoga practice is to allow the body to ‘sit comfortably’.* sounds pretty simple, right?
when the body is not functioning optimally, it detracts from our ability to concentrate on things outside of that experience (whether or not we realize it). that’s easy to see when it comes to drastic examples… if we get hit by a car, break a major bone, or become incredibly nauseous, we are consumed by that pain. but in reality, every moment, every day, our health falls somewhere on a spectrum. it doesn’t take a life-changing injury to affect our ability and willingness to experience the world free of internal distractions. many times our physical ailments live within us, subtle and without our knowing.
our health relies on movement and flow – breath, blood, lymph; nutrients, by-products, toxins; currents along nerve pathways. the body is constantly and continually in flux – breaking down, building up, mending, modifying, and mutating.
in our goal to ‘sit comfortably’, we take into account all the factors that distract a person from his ability to be still with steadiness and ease, whether they be stiffness, stagnation, or acute sensation. the movements and postures in a yoga practice are aiming to bring the body into balance and wholeness, so that the fluid body is in optimal health.
intention and awareness play a role in outcome. when we unite breath with posture, focus with movement, we realize that the observable part of our practice is not the whole picture. our mindset and reaction to our experiences are just as, if not more, important than the placement of our body parts.
there is nothing wrong with stretching; yoga just penetrates a bit deeper.
* from a loose translation of yoga sutra 2.46 – sthira sukham asanam