Our poor posture, tight muscles, and stiffness are the results of our lifestyle. Repetitive exercise, sitting at a desk, and habits all contribute towards feeling not so flexible or balanced as we wish to be. However, several practices can help you increase mobility and flexibility, such as yoga and foam rolling—but which one is better?
Yoga and foam rolling are excellent practices to relax, lengthen, and strengthen your muscles. Yoga does so through asanas held for many breath cycles and stretching. Foam rolling is a tool that assists with self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques to reduce soreness and improve range of motion.
Both yoga and foam rolling can yield incredible benefits, and you can even combine the two practices for even better results. Find out how to make the most of them below.
Yoga: An Overview
Crafting a yoga definition is not a simple task, especially as this practice is over 5,000 years old and can assume several meanings and layers depending on how a yogi (or yoga practitioner) decides to use its power.
Out of the eight limbs (or aspects) outlined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, today, most yogis focus on yoga’s third and fourth limbs.
The third limb of yoga—defined as Asana—refers to the postures or poses. You are likely to be using these poses to increase flexibility, broaden the range of motion, improve balance, and better your posture.
The fourth limb of yoga is Pranayama—or breathing. The two limbs are often interconnected and leveraged by yogis at the same time. After all, practices such as Vinyasa Yoga are based on the “gradual progression” or seamless movement from one Asana to another—following your breath.
However, Pranayama can also be beneficial when relaxing your muscles, fighting stiffness, or releasing tension.
Who Is Yoga For?
Alongside yoga and foam rolling, several other practices could help you find the muscle flexibility and range of motion you have always wanted to achieve. So, why yoga?
The benefits of yoga go way beyond simply helping your muscles relax. Indeed, the postures—or asanas—have the primary objective to help the yogi build enough strength, balance, and stamina to face long meditation sessions. In turn, meditation has been seen to have endless benefits on the mind and body, from helping you keep stress at bay to changing your personality to better react to changes.
This practice’s side benefit is that you will learn how to move from an asana to another seamlessly. All this while synchronizing your movements with your breath. When you adopt this practice regularly, you will be able to:
- Improve your balance
- Start practicing inversions
- Notice increased flexibility of joints and muscles
- Benefit from a clearer mind
- Improve your muscle strength
- Refine your agility and grace
- Move seamlessly and elegantly
Of course, these are only the physical benefits of practicing yoga—but there are also endless psychological and therapeutic benefits.
Ultimately, if you are looking for a practice that, alone, can help you feel healthier, stronger, more confident, and more flexible, yoga is the right choice for you.
What Is Foam Rolling?
A foam roller is a prop used for self-myofascial release (SMR) practices. This term refers to those techniques that use a tool (like the foam roller) to massage a muscle firmly. Other tools used might include a massage ball or massage stick.
Most SMR techniques aim to fight muscle tightness, reduce soreness, and keep at bay inflammation. While doing so, foam rolling can help your muscles relax and lengthen, thus increasing your range of motion.
When incorporated before or after your daily workout, foam rolling can yield the same benefits as stretching.
However, another study shows that foam rolling is one of the only techniques that does not affect your performance and allow you to gain the range of motion you need for cycling, running or hiking.
Who Is Foam Rolling For?
Yoga can be extremely beneficial, but it will take time to show you the results you want. Instead, foam rolling is a quick solution to implement, and it can be safely added to your daily workout.
Usually, those athletes who appreciate foam rolling benefits in their workouts prefer to add a few minutes long sessions during the warm-up or cooldown parts of their training.
A few seconds of foam rolling can help your muscle relax, especially if you use your breathing to enhance such a benefit. The athletes and gym-goers who have seen the best benefits from foam rolling are those who practice it regularly—even if just for a few minutes.
However, if you wish to keep the two practices apart from each other, the best time to introduce foam rolling into your routine is to dedicate time to it during your rest day. Indeed, foam rolling has the effect of promoting and improving blood circulation in the targeted area.
In turn, when used during your recovery days, it can help you speed up recovery and keep at bay muscle soreness—so you can be ready and pain-free for the next session at the gym!
As we are about to see, foam rolling is also an ideal addition to your regular yoga practice.
Which One Should You Choose?
Depending on what your goal is, you are more likely to prefer one practice over the other. If you wish muscle and joint flexibility to be a positive side effect of your body becoming stronger, better-balanced, and more agile, yoga is a safe bet.
Of course, yoga will require you to commit to a daily practice if you wish to see results.
You are likely to notice your hamstrings, calves, and quads muscles starting to become more flexible—but it will require you to introduce flexibility training in your yoga practice daily.
Oppositely, foam rolling is an alternative way to improve the results your regular exercise has already been offering you.
Indeed, only 10 seconds of foam rolling before your regular training will offer you the muscle flexibility and range of motion needed for better physical performance.
While foam rolling is a “quick fix” that can help you lighten your muscles and reduce the soreness deriving from intense exercise, it does not help you strengthen your muscles and yoga.
Combining Foam Rolling and Yoga
If you wish to harvest the benefits of both practices, you might decide to use foam rolling in combination with your regular yoga practice.
This option can be an excellent way to gain the range of motion necessary to enhance your Ashtanga or other yoga practice.
Additionally, foam rolling once your muscles are warm or before your yoga practice can improve the blood flow to a specific area, which might help to eliminate toxins and enhance nerve signal flow.
You can find out how to introduce foam rolling in your yoga practice harmoniously and beneficially in the video below. Here is the video:
Yoga and yoga therapy are ancient practices that have been proven to yield incredible benefits to the body and minds. They can help increase flexibility, promote balance, strengthen the muscles, and keep at bay feelings such as stress and anxiety.
Instead, foam rolling is a practice that you can introduce alongside any other type of training you dedicate yourself to. Foam rolling can help you release the muscles’ tension, promote flexibility, and reduce pain and stiffness.
Foam rolling is perfect either before or after a workout, on your recovery day, and in combination with yoga.
- Wikipedia: Asana
- Reach Active: Self-myofascial release: What is it and how does it work?
- Yoga Journal: Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras
- Yoga Journal: Defining “Vinyasa”
- NCBI: Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase the quality of life
- NCBI: The Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roll or Roller Massager on Joint Range of Motion, Muscle Recovery, and Performance: A Systematic Review
- National Library of Medicine: The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance
- Harvard Health Publishing: Should you add foam rolling to your workout routine?
- NCBI: Roller-Massager Application to the Hamstrings Increases Sit-and-Reach Range of Motion Within Five to Ten Seconds Without Performance Impairments