What is the difference between yoga and meditation?
Is yoga a form of meditation?
These questions arise because both practices come from Eastern cultures and offer similar benefits, such as calming the mind and enhancing well-being.
However, they serve different purposes and are distinct practices.
Yoga is commonly recognized as a physical exercise that has been around for thousands of years.
Yoga focuses on poses and breath, while meditation is a mental practice that helps your body relax and clears your mind.
Both practices have grown in popularity over the past few years and each have a range of health benefits (more on this below).
Meditation and yoga enhance one’s quality of life, but in separate ways.
- What Is Yoga?
- What is Meditation?
- The Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
- Meditation vs. Yoga: 5 Key Differences
- How Do Yoga and Meditation Work Together?
- Yoga vs. Mindfulness
What Is Yoga?
“Yoga” is an ancient Sanskrit word that means “to yoke or to join” with a higher spiritual power, often referred to as God or the Universe.
This ancient practice originated in India and has come to be practiced by many cultures worldwide.
The eight limbs of yoga are:
- Yama: dealing with ethical standards and integrity
- Niyama: dealing with self-discipline and spiritual observances
- Asana: the postures practiced in yoga
- Pranayama: breath control
- Pratyahara: sensory transcendence
- Dharana: the practice of concentrations
- Dhyana: meditation or contemplation
- Samadhi: a state of ecstasy, transcending the self
Together, they create an entire life management system. But separately, each is still comprehensive enough to teach a yogi how to live in harmony with themselves, other people, and their environment.
In the modern world, few people refer to the entire philosophy of yoga, all eight limbs, when they talk about their spiritual practice.
When most people say they practice “yoga,” they simply refer to hatha yoga, which is a series of postures called asanas (postures) and breathing exercises known as pranayama (breath control).
And when they say they practice “meditation,” they are often referring to the seventh limb of yoga, called dhyana, which you can use to calm your mind and connect with your true self.
Hatha yoga has many benefits, including increased awareness, flexibility, and body strength.
Many postures are simple, like Downward Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Shvanasana), but a few require many months, even years of practice, such as Twisted Floor Bow Pose (Dhanurasana).
Asanas can be categorized into activating and relaxing poses.
Exercises like the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) are called activating poses and stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. They alternate with relaxing poses like the Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana),
What is Meditation?
Meditation is an integral part of yoga, which supports the well-being achieved through physical posture.
In dhyana, the Indian form of meditation, the mind is cleared, breathing is slowed down, and stress is released.
Practicing dhyana consistently for a long time creates a sense of physical ease, mental well-being, and emotional tranquility.
But, keep in mind that while chanting mantras, following guided visualizations, or repeating affirmations are also calming, they are not classified as dhyana.
The most common type of dhyana meditation involves focusing on using a sacred mantra like “so-hum” to quiet distracting thoughts.
Meditating is about focusing your attention on the mantra, tuning out distractions from the outside world, and decreasing internal mental chatter.
- Whenever your mind wanders in meditation, you must bring it back to your focus.
- Regular meditation allows you to disengage from stressful situations and see them more clearly.
- This experience of heightened perception is called mindfulness, and it’s a beneficial side-effect.
- Being mindful means staying completely focused on the present moment rather than letting other distracting thoughts influence your mental state.
Learning meditation can take some time because the mind is restless and does not like to focus on one point for too long. The benefits of meditation include improved mood, less stress, reduced anxiety, and improved concentration.
The Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
From a holistic perspective, both provide a vast spectrum of mind-body benefits.
With basic equipment, such as a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, they can be performed at home and are both simple and safe.
Yoga offers the following benefits:
- It improves mobility, spinal flexibility, strength, and posture.
- It develops a strong core for improving posture and reducing back pain. To achieve a strong core, you must be able to engage your abdominals while mobilizing your spine.
- It reinforces the brain’s cognitive power, which is made up of neurons that use a magnetic field for internal communication.
- It strengthens the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body rhythmically.
- It enhances the lungs’ capacity to process oxygen and release carbon dioxide.
- It reinforces the health of the bones, joints, and muscles. If the bones, joints, or muscles are unhealthy, it can lead to various health problems such as arthritis.
- It stimulates better digestion and metabolism.
- It reduces stress, blood pressure, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic pain.
Mediation offers the following benefits:
- It reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. It can be as effective at reducing stress and decreasing mood disorders as a pharmaceutical, but it takes longer to work.
- It improves the quality of sleep. Sleep hygiene is a crucial part of our lives that we often neglect. But research has shown that getting enough sleep can help improve focus and concentration levels and the quality of sleep.
- It increases grey matter density and improves cognitive function. More specifically, it increases focus, concentration, and engagement when studying something.
- It encourages better emotional health (more stable emotions, better stress management). Regular practice makes you increasingly mindful of what you’re doing and feeling, tracking how well you sleep, calming yourself in tough moments with self-compassion, and cultivating gratitude for all the good things in your life.
You can use meditation and yoga together to create a mind-body practice. You can benefit physically and mentally from both when done correctly.
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Meditation vs. Yoga: 5 Key Differences
1. Yoga is a physical practice, while meditation is primarily mental.
Most people imagine someone contorting their body into pretzel shapes.
While advanced forms of yoga involve complex physical postures, even simpler asanas unify body, mind, and spirit.
Meditation, on the other hand, is primarily a mental practice that aims to focus and quiet the mind by focusing on a mantra.
A healthy lifestyle can include both practices, and both provide stress relief, improved sleep, and increased concentration and focus.
2. In both practices, breathwork, or pranayama, is used differently.
By using postures that coordinate with inhaling and exhaling, yoga promotes physical and mental well-being.
Unlike yoga, meditation is a mental practice that emphasizes the mind. It aims to develop concentration, awareness, and compassion.
Some meditation practices, like mindfulness meditation or Vipassana meditation, begin by focusing on your breathing and returning to that focus whenever your mind wanders.
Dhyana meditations require focusing only on a mantra and ignoring breath.
3. Yoga is active, while meditation is passive.
The goal of yoga is not to work up a sweat, even though it involves physical activity, such as standing, sitting, and flowing through various postures.
Instead, it’s about connecting movements with breath and calming the mind.
Meditation, on the other hand, is entirely about developing an inner focus.
Since sitting with a straight spine and focusing on the breath is the only “action” required, it’s classified as a passive practice.
4. In both practices, group dynamics are used uniquely.
Although you can practice yoga or meditation alone or in a group at any time of day, both have different group dynamics.
Since yoga involves carefully coordinated posture with breathing exercises, a group setting is best because an instructor can correct any posture or breathing errors.
In contrast to guided meditation, strict yogic meditation, called dhyana, leads to perfect equanimity and awareness by withdrawing the mind from automatic reactions induced by sense impressions.
After many months, you can achieve this type of withdrawal by using a mantra as a focusing tool.
5. You should always do yoga before meditation.
Although you can practice yoga or meditation alone, the most profound results come when you practice them together.
Yoga must always come before meditation to optimize the benefits of the change in energy flow in your body.
By moving your body first, you can explore your limitations and find balance and stillness, and then, during meditation, you use your mind to quiet the chatter and focus on the present moment.
How Do Yoga and Meditation Work Together?
Both complement each other well. To help loosen your muscles, you might begin your yoga practice with some basic stretches. It improves your flexibility and strength and prepares your body for meditation.
The body is full of energy after a series of asanas. You must release this excess energy to stabilize the mind and body. Meditation is an excellent method for releasing it constructively.
Meditation before yoga would be counterproductive since it would not settle the energy after it is raised.
In sum, meditation can help you find inner peace and calm after you have resolved physical tensions through yoga. By combining the two practices, you can get the benefits of both worlds.
Yoga vs. Mindfulness
As discussed, yoga and mindfulness exercises are complementary. Generally, meditating after a yoga session is best if you want to harness the post-practice energies coursing through your channels.
But what about yoga and mindfulness? Are they the same? Can you do one without the other?
While similar, yoga and mindfulness are separate practices. Both enhance your well-being, but in different ways.
Like meditation, mindfulness and yoga go hand-in-hand. Both quiet the mind and allow you to slip into a hyper-relaxed state.
Encouragingly, a Harvard study concluded that the tranquility one feels after a yoga session becomes habitual, ultimately leading to better emotional control. In other words, yoga can be the ultimate mindfulness exercise.
So, how can you incorporate mindfulness into your yoga sessions?
Body scan work is a type of mindfulness exercise. It’s a simple premise that can take years to master.
How’s it done with yoga?
When in an asana (yoga pose), focus on which body parts are being stretched and soothed.
Concentrate on how your body is moving and how it makes you feel. Doing this throughout a yoga session is a form of mindfulness that encourages a stronger body-mind connection.
Yoga enthusiasts will often talk about “mat work.” It’s a double entendre in that “mat work” refers to yoga’s physical and mental labors. Mat work is about processing events in the present — the very definition of mindfulness.
Much like post-yoga meditations, doing mindfulness exercises after a movement session can be highly beneficial and go a long way in aligning your chakras and overall energetic aura.
Want to try something different? After yoga class, instead of doing mindfulness meditations, try another type of mindfulness exercise like mandala coloring, which also stretches your creative muscles.
Both practices offer many benefits for physical and mental health. Although they have some similarities, they also differ significantly.
Yoga emphasizes movement and breath, while meditation emphasizes stillness and repetition of a mantra.