It goes without saying that both practices have their differences. While both meditation and yoga may incorporate similar practices, such as focused breathing and postures, there are distinct characteristics that define each one. Meditation is typically understood as a mental practice that aims to achieve a state of deep concentration and stillness of the mind, while yoga is a physical and spiritual practice that incorporates postures, breathing exercises and meditation. They both can have similar goals but different approaches and methods. While meditation is a practice that can be performed with or without movement in order to focus and calm the mind, yoga is a form of exercise that uses specific body positions to achieve physical and mental health benefits. To delve into this, let’s first look at what each practice represents.
What is Yoga?
In recent times, yoga has gained widespread popularity as a form of physical exercise and fitness routine.
Yoga is known for deep stretching, improving flexibility, and building strength. Despite its current popularity as a form of physical exercise, the practice of yoga is actually rooted in ancient Indian philosophy and has a history that dates back more than 5000 years. The traditional aim of yoga is to achieve a state of physical, mental and spiritual well-being and it encompasses a wide range of practices and techniques to reach this goal. Essentially, it is a practice that aims to combine and synchronize the body and mind through various poses (asanas), breathing techniques and often meditations. Yoga means “union” and as such, it aims to bring all of these things together to promote well-being and balance. Yoga is not just a workout or physical exercise, it is a practice to be integrated into one’s daily lifestyle. It is a holistic practice that not only improves physical health but also helps in mental and emotional balance and encompasses a set of principles and values that are meant to be incorporated into one’s routine. The practice of yoga encourages self-awareness, self-care and a healthy relationship with the self, others and the environment. By incorporating yoga into your lifestyle, you can create a sense of balance, harmony and well-being. Those who practice yoga regularly often incorporate the principles of yoga into their daily lives, not just through the physical practice but also in their way of living, thinking and being. This includes following a yogic or Ayurvedic diet, which typically emphasizes whole, natural foods and avoids processed and refined foods. You may also follow a specific code of conduct called the yamas and niyamas, which are ethical guidelines for behavior and attitudes.
What is Meditation?
To meditate is to train the mind, using a particular stimulus, so that it is not distracted by thoughts, emotions or any physical discomfort. In other words, to meditate is to be able to feel the infinity of the mind and spirit without being dominated by thoughts. Often this is referred to as “making the mind blank” or freeing it from thoughts, but in reality it is simply not identifying with thoughts. When we meditate we connect with the infinite, our spirit and love. Outside of this space there is no time, therefore there is no past or future as we humans know it. When we meditate, we enter into connection with the present; with that field of infinite potentiality in which the reality we know is created. Meditation is not something that we should impose or force ourselves to do because “it is fashionable”. It is a voluntary process which we enter with the desire to re-discover that which has always been within us. The goal is not to discover something new, it is simply to remember your true essence. Meditation is not an end in itself, it is rather a journey and an experience that never ends. Many times we may feel intimidated by not knowing how to meditate or not being able to concentrate during meditation. That feeling is normal. You just have to continue with the practice and understand that part of the meditation process is to know yourself; it is precisely this path of knowledge that represents the practice. Meditation has been present in all cultures and religions throughout history. All the great traditions have taught it and, although the technique may vary, the essence is the same. In reality, praying a rosary or doing a Zen meditation can lead you to the same place. Meditation is actually a lifestyle and the most important thing is to practice it daily. Instead of meditating only once a month or one day a week, it is better to be consistent and practice it daily. The daily time dedicated to your meditation should be non-negotiable. When you start meditating, at first it may be difficult to concentrate, however with practice you will find that it becomes easier and easier to enter into moments of full concentration and absolute peace.
Deciding Between Yoga and Meditation
When deciding whether to practice yoga or meditation, it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between the two practices. Essentially, meditation is focused on stilling the body and therefore the mind, and reaching a state of deep concentration and inner peace, while yoga is a holistic practice that incorporates physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and also meditation to bring balance and harmony to the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is a more physical practice which includes the use of postures, while meditation is more of a mental practice that aims to calm the mind to achieve inner peace. They both have different methods and approaches, but they can complement each other to achieve a balance of mind and body. As meditation is about stilling your body and mind, it doesn’t consist of physical exercises in essence. The body remains still during the practice, as the focus is on the internal experience and not on physical movement. The purpose is to achieve a state of calmness, where the mind is present in the moment, and not dwelling in the past or future. During meditation, the focus is often directed towards a specific object, sound or the breath. Meditation is meant to help you become more aware and at ease in your daily life by improving your ability to focus and training your mind. It helps you curb excessive thinking and can be done anywhere, anytime. As it helps to train the mind to focus on the present and let go of distractions and thoughts about the past or future, meditation can be considered as an ideal practice for people who desire to learn to focus on the present moment and become less consumed by their thoughts and emotions without involving in physical exercises of yoga.
Which is Better, Yoga or Meditation?
As previously mentioned, yoga and meditation are two distinct practices that have different methods and goals. Yoga is a holistic practice that incorporates physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation to bring balance and harmony to the body, mind, and spirit. The focus is on the movement of the body, and the use of postures as a means of developing strength, flexibility and balance. When it comes to yoga, postures (asanas) are inseparable from it, as explained above. Asanas are certain stances that the body adopts to exert a beneficial influence on all its organs and glands, on the neuromuscular system and on very diverse functions. Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice that typically involves sitting or lying down in a comfortable position and focusing on one’s breath, feelings, or a specific mantra or object of concentration. The goal is to quiet the mind and achieve a state of deep concentration and inner peace. The body remains still during the practice and the focus is on the internal experience, not on physical movement. While meditation can be a part of yoga practice, yoga does not necessarily include meditation. Ultimately, whether yoga or meditation is “better” for an individual depends on their personal needs and preferences. Both practices have their own unique benefits and can help promote serenity and well-being. Both practices can help promote serenity. It is important to note that both yoga and meditation are broad terms that encompass a wide variety of practices, each with its own unique approach, methods and goals. If you are a beginner, it is important to find a yoga or meditation practice that is appropriate for your current fitness level and lifestyle. For instance, while an intense Ashtanga yoga class may be too physically demanding for a beginner, a slow yoga flow or a restorative yoga class may be more suitable.
Do Yoga and Meditation Have the Same Effects?
When deciding whether to practice yoga or meditation, it is important to consider your personal motivation and needs. Obviously, anyone who wants to improve their body strength and performance can choose yoga instead of meditation. If your primary goal is to improve your physical strength and flexibility, then long-term yoga training can be an effective way to achieve this. However, if you are attending to a yoga class and have any injuries, it is important to inform your yoga teacher beforehand and they can guide you with modifications of postures that are appropriate for your condition, or advise you to avoid certain postures or movements that may cause further injury. You should keep in mind that considering one practice to be “better” than the other is not the right approach. The choice between the two practices should be based on personal preference and what you feel will be most beneficial for you and your individual needs as both practices can be used together to achieve a balance mind and body. There is no universal rule. Best option would be to spend some time both and find out which suits you better. Be sure to try several styles, and eventually you’ll find the practice that works best for you. On the other hand, keep in mind that yoga and meditation are inseparable for many people as they choose to practice both.
Setting the Mind Free
There are different ways of meditating that can be learned, for example, during a meditation weekend or a yoga vacation. Mindfulness exercises, special breathing techniques, gong sounds and meditative chanting can help to let go of thoughts and find inner peace. Mantras are also a popular tool: these are a specific syllable or word that is repeated over and over again, often just mentally. A well-known mantra is “Om”. In Indian creation mythology, this syllable stands for the beginning of everything and, when repeated constantly, creates a very special vibration in the body. To make the connection between yoga and meditation even clearer: The asanas are also a form of meditation in a sense. The individual movements are always combined with breathing, which is why the physical exercises in yoga are also considered “meditation in motion”. At the end, both practices aim to lead the practitioner to enlightenment -realization of the true self. In fact, meditation is an integral part of many classical yoga classes, usually at the beginning to get in the mood for the yoga practice and at the end, to find relaxation.
The Effects of Meditation on Health
For thousands of years, people have practiced meditation to train their minds and find enlightenment. Modern research also proves the positive effect of silent contemplation on body and psyche. According to this, meditation activates the left hemisphere of the brain, which improves the perception of stress and strengthens the immune system. As a result, meditators are more balanced and less susceptible to illness. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels drop, and stress symptoms such as migraines and restless sleep are reduced. The point at which the effects of meditation and the associated relaxation set in varies from person to person. However, many people feel the first differences after only 25 hours of meditation practice. A certain perseverance is therefore worthwhile.
The Effects of Yoga on Health
As yoga serves the same purpose as meditation, it implements all the health benefits of meditation, however, it also provides some extra benefits through asana practices. The asanas aid all the systems of the body: the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and nervous systems. During asana practice, the body-mind integration is favored, the nervous system is soothed and the emotions are pacified. Asanas supply blood to all areas of the body, favor the tissues, improve brain function, provide flexibility to the spine, tendons and joints, muscles and nerves. They eliminate tensions and contractures and induce a deeper and more restorative relaxation. Asanas prevent somatic and psychosomatic disorders and collaborate in the treatment of emotional or psychic problems. Likewise, the asanas regulate cardiac action and blood pressure, exceptionally favor the entire locomotor system and revitalize the organism. They prevent premature aging and keep the body supple and resilient.