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Eastern practices like yoga and meditation are becoming more and more mainstream with classes being offered in gyms, studios, and other venues all around the country. Many people are turning to more holistic practices to cope with anxiety, depression and the daily stresses of life. With the popularity of yoga and meditation growing in the west, it is very likely that you have or know someone who has practiced one or both practices. Both yoga and meditation provide a great relief to stress, as well as a number of other benefits to the body and the mind. But are yoga and meditation the same practice or are they different?
So what is the difference between yoga and meditation? Yoga and meditation both practice mindfulness and place emphasis on the breath and present moment. However, they are also very different. Unlike meditation, yoga has a physical aspect in its practice, with asanas used to connect to the breath and present moment.
While both practices share similarities, yoga and meditation are share many differences as well. It is possible to practice meditation while you are in the midst of your yoga practice, as a yoga practice is very much like a moving meditation. However, because meditation is generally practiced in stillness, or with little movement, it is not likely that you will practice many yoga poses within your meditation practice. Many yogis who start yoga for its physical benefits often begin to experience the more meditative aspects of yoga, and may even start a separate meditation practice in addition to their yoga practice.
What is the Difference Between Meditation and Yoga?
The physical practice, or asana practice, is only one part of practice within the 8 Limbs of Yoga. When we refer to yoga in this article, we will be referring to the physical practice of yoga, which is what many people are the most familiar with. The asana practice is the practice of yoga that you will find in gyms, yoga studios, and in online yoga videos; and it is the practice of yoga that is the most popular in the west.
During a yoga practice, you are likely to practice:
- Yoga poses
- Pranayama or breathing exercises
- Moving with breath
- Building physical and mental strength
- Engaging your muscles
- A sense of calm and peace
- Being present in the moment
While you are practicing different postures and moving your body into different shapes, yoga poses allow you to go inward and be completely present in your body and in the moment. The physical poses of yoga are a vehicle to go deeper inside yourself and your practice. The more that you connect to yourself through the physical practice of yoga; you will find that you are able to be more mindful, connect, and grounded in the present moment.
Similar to yoga, meditation also produces very similar effects in the mind and body. There are dozens of different meditation practices including mantra meditation, loving kindness meditation, spirit guide meditation, and Vipassana meditation, to name a few. Depending on your lineage or the type of meditation you are practicing, there will be different practices that you will experience while meditating.
During a meditation practice, you are likely to practice:
- In a stillness
- In seated or reclined position
- With the eyes closed or with a soft gaze
- Breathing techniques
- A sense of calm and peace
- Being present in the moment
Like with starting anything for the first time, beginning a meditation practice can be challenging. Our everyday lives constantly revolve around movement and being stimulated, that when we begin to slow things down and find stillness, it can prove to be a challenge. However, cultivating a regular meditation practice can bring about reduced levels of anxiety and stress, and allow for time and space to clear the mind and the body.
Which is More Challenging— Yoga or Meditation?
Some people can find a meditation practice more challenging than a yoga practice, or vice versa. During meditation, you become present in your body and the moment through stillness and breath, while in a yoga practice, you can find that same sense of presence through movement, poses, and breath.
However, both practices leave you feeling calm, present, and mindful. Some yogis may find it difficult to sit for long periods of time, and find meditation through their physical yoga practice. While some meditators prefer to not practice physical yoga poses to reach a state of relaxation and mindfulness.
Benefits of Yoga
The physical practice of yoga has a wide range of physical as well as mental and emotional benefits. When you physically practice yoga poses, you build strength and flexibility in the body and often, many people start yoga for this very reason. The mindfulness and awareness aspect of the practice shows up naturally as you get deeper into your yoga practice.
Within your yoga class, you are likely to practice different yoga poses, breathing exercises, relaxation, and maybe even a short seated meditation. Each part of the practice provides a number of benefits in your physical and emotional body and helps to build the connection between you, your breath, and your inner-self. Practicing yoga helps to cultivate a feeling of self-love and self-awareness and slows you down. You may find that after steady practice, you are not only stronger and more flexible, but more calm and relaxed as well.
Yoga’s physical benefits include:
- Increased energy
- Increased muscular strength
- Toned muscles
- Weight management
- Cardiovascular health
- Balanced metabolism
- Management of chronic pain
Yoga’s mental and emotional benefits include:
- Lessens stress
- Promotes a sense of calm and relaxation
- Slows down the mind
- Promotes a sense of strength and well-being
- Provides mental clarity
- Allows for a more restful sleep
- Improves concentration
- Increases inner and outer awareness
With its wide range of benefits, yoga is a practice that is beneficial to everybody. There are many different practices of yoga as well, so depending on your level of flexibility and strength, or your body’s history, there is sure to be a practice for you. Whether you are looking for a challenging, more athletic style, or a slower and restorative paced class, there are different practices that you can choose from.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is starting to become more and more popular with cities opening up studios specifically for meditation, and many people getting interested in the different meditation practices. Meditation is a practice that allows you to redirect your thoughts and practice being calm, aware, and mindful in the present moment.
The practice of meditation allows for you to become aware of your thoughts and your thought patterns. By redirecting the mind back to the breath and the present moment, you learn to feel yourself grounded and present instead of thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Meditation has a number of powerful benefits in the mind and body, and a regular practice can add so much to your life.
- Promotes healthy sleep patterns
- Develops focus and concentration
- Reduces stress
- Helps to control anxiety
- Sharpens your inner and outer awareness
- Grounds and cleanses your energy
- Allows you to go deeper within your self
- Improves memory
- Allows you to be kind and compassionate to yourself and others
- Lowers your blood pressure
One of the great things about meditation is that you can do it anywhere without any props! You can start by meditating a few minutes every day before you get out of bed or while winding down after your day. All you need is a comfortable place to sit and relax. Most often, meditators will practice with their eyes closed, but you can also meditate with your eyes softly open. You can even practice in crowded subways or even while walking, simply by taking a moment to focus inward, tune into your breath, and ground yourself in the present moment.
Is Meditation Better Than Yoga?
There is definitely no “better” practice, and yoga and meditation can go hand in hand. While meditating, it is common to practice in various seated positions like easy pose or lotus, both of which are actually yoga poses. During your yoga practice, you may find yourself in a meditative state while flowing through your vinyasa.
Just as every body is different, every practice is different for each person and it is up to you to choose which practices feel good in your mind and your body. There is no practice that is better than the other, and there are many aspects of yoga and meditation that are found in each other.
If you practice yoga or meditation, it may be interesting to try the practice that you do not regularly partake in. You may surprise yourself with the similarities and may also learn to appreciate the differences and different benefits that each may provide for you.
What is loving kindness meditation? Also known as Metta Meditation, this type of mediation focuses on cultivating compassion and love to one’s self and all living beings. Practitioners repeat phrases that cultivate a sense of love and peace for the self and all beings in the world.
Do I need a meditation cushion to meditate? Some meditators prefer to sit on a meditation cushion; however, you absolutely don’t need to have one to start meditating! Find a comfortable and quiet space in your home and sit in a cross-legged, easy pose. You can also sit in a chair or lay on your back if that is more comfortable for you.
What do you find yourself regularly partaking in, a physical yoga practice, or a seated meditation practice? I would love to hear in the comments below!