A critical look at stretching and yoga

A critical look at stretching and yoga

March 27, 2023



While both stretching and yoga are revered in the fitness industry as the top practices of healing and injury-prevention, this article isn’t going to share that narrative. Instead, we will present a viewpoint that questions the application and effectiveness of both practices. First, we’ll briefly introduce both practices, discuss the differences between them, present why neither practices are long-term beneficial for you, and ultimately, what the appropriate solutions are.


When I refer to stretching, I’ll be referencing the practice of stretching as a series of activities that are habitually repeated, and not a singular instance of stretching. This article encompasses the following examples of stretching: routine stretches or warm-up before a sports game, stretching while running outdoors, or stretching completed as a wind-down from the day.


Brief Overview of Stretching

Stretching is an activity performed to increase range of motion (ROM), with the intention to “loosen up” tight muscles. By lengthening and easing tightened muscles, people hope that this will achieve the following:


  1. Prime the body for movement
  2. Wind down from exercise to decrease the sensation of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS
  3. Promote a relaxed state in one’s body


You may feel a natural urge to stretch after waking or after sitting in a fixed position for a prolonged time, which would be closer to pandiculation. Pandiculation appears to have more benefits than consequences and will be discussed later in this article.


Brief Overview of Yoga 


 Yoga is a practice that has endured time, cultural barriers and critical thinking. Let me first explain: As a race, we collectively spend the least amount of time outside in the sun than we ever have in our entire human history. Top that with screen-addiction and a sedentary lifestyle, we are increasingly moving away from our natural world and thus our natural instincts, leaving us stressed and sicker than ever.


Enter yoga. Yoga is a holistic route to reconnecting with nature, ‘harmonizing’ the mind, body, and soul to heal one’s pain. The pillars of “harmony” are manifestation, gratitude, and love: All of which form an abstract foundation to a practice that aims to heal all types and spectrums of pain. And while we agree that one must use the natural resources of the world to heal, at Functional Patterns our approach is much more fundamental.


Because the mind and soul as described in the framework of yoga are based on abstract beliefs, I will only be addressing the physical practice when speaking on yoga in this article.


Like stretching, yoga also comes in a variety of forms, but overall, it is a practice that can focus on either or all of the following:

  1. Holding positions or poses
  2. The transitional flow between positions/poses
  3. Breathwork and meditation
  4. Relating awareness to spirituality


Ultimately, the desired result of practicing yoga is very similar to stretching; to ‘loosen up’ or relax tight muscles in order to move without pain, both physically and mentally. But is yoga better than just stretching?


Stretching vs Yoga


Yoga isn’t just a series of stretches, nor is stretching just a reduced version of yoga. Some may use yoga for stretching, and some people manually stretch using pulling tensions to achieve advanced yoga poses. Both are different practices with many subcategories that fall under them. But what is the difference between yoga and stretching?


Because yoga focuses on strength to support flexibility, is yoga better for flexibility than stretching? No, because in yoga you do not focus on ‘building strength’ in a structure that supports optimal movement, instead the strength is judged on how well one can hold advanced poses which is comparable to static stretching.


If you complete a brief search on the studies and research completed to back the claims of both stretching and yoga, you’ll find that many of the meta-analyses on these topics are inconclusive. You’ll even find that statically stretching doesn’t prove to increase ROM during actual movement, it only affects how muscles move in isolation when the body is still - Meaning this doesn’t translate over to new planes of motions. What is the point of improving your flexibility if you are not able to use it towards movement, when injuries and pain would typically occur?


Additionally, when practicing breathwork in yoga and applying it to movement, it turns out conscious breathing is activated by a different part of the brain than when you are subconsciously breathing. Due to this distinguishing factor, conscious breathwork does not affect how you breath in movement outside of the practice. Meaning, your breathwork in yoga class will not correlate to improved breathing when you’re running down the soccer field with friends.


If stretching and yoga were effective practices, they would complement your movement: From daily routines such as doing laundry and washing dishes, to outdoors activities such as gardening or walking your dog, to casual sports with family and friends. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.






Pandiculation is the involuntary extension of the soft tissues, such as yawning and stretching when coming out of a sleep or rested state. This natural occurrence is also known as nature’s reset button, as it results in the relaxation of your nervous system and improved ROM.


Animals don’t intentionally stretch and they certainly don’t do yoga - while some yoga poses are named after animals, the animal kingdom is not designed to pose; Animals in nature are designed to survive. For animals, every moment and every movement is calculated as not to waste energy. With that said, could stretching and yoga actually be a waste of your precious resources?


The Shortcomings of Stretching and Yoga


In order to understand why stretching and yoga aren’t the ideal approaches to resolving stiffness and pain, I first have to create a framework of thinking to understand how the body works. The body operates best when hydrated. When moving correctly, the body is a traction suit. The body pumps fluid up from compression, to decompress the joint, creating a fluctuating container of pushing and pulling actions that send fluid where it is needed.


However, when the body is dehydrated, it moves stiffly and overcompensates which causes your body to drain precious resources, thus fluid doesn’t travel to where it’s needed. When one continues to move poorly, the effects become compounded, resulting in that person becoming less adaptable, and over time, leading to pain and a higher risk of injury.

Dehydration usually correlates with shortened muscle tissue. So, reasonably one would believe that the solution to dehydration would be to lengthen the muscle tissue and increase flexibility. The popular belief in our society is that stretching and yoga are two answers to this issue. However, what if I told you that the context in which these practices create length and flexibility in your body actually just makes you more dehydrated?


As our economy becomes increasingly more dependent on desk jobs, practices like stretching and yoga become ever more attractive, due to their accessibility both from home and local communities, and because the instructions are seemingly straightforward. However, accessibility and ease of use are not the equivalents to what the best solution is.


Both stretching and yoga are missing a fundamental variable to their practices, and it’s that neither account for physics. This means they do not account for how your body essentially loads and exerts under the force of gravity while performing an activity. If a movement practice does not complement our foundational skills, such as standing, walking, running and throwing, then we continually bypass the groundwork of our evolution which leads to wear and tear sooner or later. And once the wear and tear takes place, it becomes exceedingly difficult to regenerate other areas where your body needs it because you are repeatedly using resources on recurrent injuries and pain.


Want an in-depth look on the research behind stretching? Watch below:




Functional Patterns addresses the root cause of pain and injury, and that stems from your biomechanics. When you move better, you tend to feel better, both physically and mentally. But the feeling isn’t coming from just the release of endorphins and serotonin, it comes from the body being able to send hydration to where it is needed and thus operate as a reciprocal system. Your body receives the nourishment, and thus, you can perform your activities functionally. When physical activity serves not just to relieve your current mental state but also adds to your physical development in a way that corrects your biomechanics, you are creating a sustainable life to continue doing what you love for generations to come. This is what true regeneration looks like.


Ready to regenerate? Our 10-Week Online Program is a great introduction to becoming pain-free and building up a solid foundation for sustainable movement:




Stretching and yoga may be holistic practices but when used to address pain, these methods can be comparable to the routine intake of pain-killers; In that stretching and yoga doesn’t address the root of our problems, it only temporarily masks the pain. And while both are different from one another, there doesn’t seem to be a long-term solution within either practice that prevents pain and injury, and in fact, may lead to diminishing returns. As the body is conditioned to elongation and holding unnatural positions in stretching and yoga, the tension of our muscular structure starts to fail under the forces of gravity. If we do not address our biomechanics at the fundamental level, we miss the target by a long shot, thus leaving us to repeat the same, unsupportable cycles. At Functional Patterns, we account for all of the factors that contribute to optimal movement, not just positions, but also how the body generates power to perform pain-free.

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