The ancient practices of yoga and meditation are a foreign concept to some. Many people associate yoga with twisting your body into a pretzel shape. Some view meditation solely as some type of religious experience or it is otherwise misunderstood. Let’s take a moment to talk about the similarities and differences between these two practices.
What Is Yoga?
When defining the meaning of yoga, one can scratch the surface, or go much deeper. For some, yoga is simply a form of exercise that they enjoy at their local gym. On the surface, yoga is a series of specific postures that are routinely followed, usually in a heated room of sweaty participants.
Each posture or ‘asana’ requires the practitioner to become more flexible as they freely move from one pose to the next. That is how yoga looks on the outside. For the purposes of this article, we are going to explore yoga from the inside.
The Yoga Sutras were written over 1700 years ago, which are attributed to the legendary sage, Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are a philosophical guidebook of sorts. They instruct that yoga is designed to bring our awareness inward, promoting the integration of mind, body, and spirit. The Yoga Sutras say, “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence. When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.”
One might wonder, how is it that a yoga practitioner connects to this unbounded spirit? This is where the role of the breath in the practice comes into play. In yoga, the breath represents ‘prana’ or vital life force. In a yoga practice, one maintains constant awareness of the breath, by mentally focusing on a slow and deep inhale and exhale at all times. This helps the practitioner to move through each of the physical movements of the practice with greater ease. When the mind does wander, it should be focused only on thoughts of positivity and love.
What Is Meditation?
In defining meditation, it is something that you do, but it is much more than that. It is more about what you are NOT doing. Essentially, you are not doing anything, you are just “being.” Let’s talk about the methods that people use to meditate.
The most common way to meditate is to sit in an upright position, and just close your eyes. Take deep breaths, in and out, and do your best to release all thoughts in your mind. Next, you simply focus on your breath, thinking of nothing else. This can be more difficult than one may imagine.
Some people choose a specific word or a ‘mantra’ to silently repeat while they are meditating. The purpose of a mantra is to “plant a seed” with the intention of it blossoming in the individual’s life and creating heightened levels of awareness.
Here is a quick definition, given by Dr. Deepak Chopra, one of the world’s top experts on the subject.
Chopra explains that his definition of meditation is (also)rooted in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. “Meditation is a mental form of yoga, wherein we silence our though processes and arrive at the source of thought. In other words, we dismantle notions of the self and arrive at a higher being. Meditation is a process of calming the mind and an affirmation of the individual relationship to the universal.” This is the deeper meaning of meditation.
How Are They Practiced Differently?
It is a bit of a tricky question to talk about how yoga and meditation are different because the two are essentially intertwined. As mentioned, they are born from the same roots, which are the Yoga Sutras. Let’s begin by pointing out the obvious, which is how they are practiced differently.
During yoga, you are physically moving through a very specific series of asanas, or postures. As mentioned, your goal is to focus on your breath, which is the same as meditation. So, the difference between the two is that yoga involves a rigorous workout, where meditation involves being as physically still as you possibly can, and just letting the energy of the universe flow through your body.
That is what the difference boils down to. Physical movement, versus non-physical movement. In both cases, the goal is a stillness of the mind and a connection to universal energy.
Benefits of Yoga Vs. Meditation
Now let’s explore the physical and mental benefits you can expect from participating regularly in yoga and meditation.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of yoga is increased flexibility and muscle strength. Doing yoga promotes an upright posture, and helps to protect your spine by keeping the disks in your back supple.
When you practice yoga, it really gets your blood flowing, so this promotes increased circulation, specifically to your hands and feet. When your muscles stretch and contract when coming in and out of yoga postures, lymph drainage increases, which means that toxins are moved easier out of the body.
The physical benefits of yoga go on and on. I could write an entire article on the subject. However, there are proven mental benefits as well, according to the American Psychological Association. Yoga has been shown to improve the symptoms of depression, hyperactivity, sleep disorders, and depression. Yoga has also shown to increase the level of a chemical in the brain called GABA, which regulates nerve activity. This is especially helpful to those who have anxiety disorders who have low GABA levels. Now that we have talked about the positive benefits of practicing yoga, let’s move on to meditation.
The main benefit of practicing meditation is stress reduction, which has been proven in medical studies. Meditating regularly has also shown to reduce anxiety, and help with other mental health issues such as social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Meditating can improve depression, and help to give one a more positive outlook on life in general.
Through meditating regularly, you can gain increased mental focus and clarity. Studies have found that meditation helps to develop mental discipline and willpower, helping people who suffer from addictions.
There are also a few physical benefits of meditation as well. During meditation, your blood pressure decreases. Over time, individuals who meditate regularly experience lowered blood pressure even when not meditating. As a result, the strain on the heart and arteries are reduced.