Is yoga a form of meditation? The surprising truth

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Are you – like many other people – wondering if yoga is a form of meditation?

The surprising truth is the answers are both YES and NO.

First up: Yes, yoga qualifies as a form of meditation – movement meditation, that is.

On the other hand, meditation is often considered a PART of yoga – which is why the answer could be no as well.

Now I know that this may sound confusing, so let’s explore the reasons why I have seemingly conflicting answers to the age-old question “Is yoga a form of meditation?”

Defining yoga and meditation

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this article’s question, let’s first define these two acts.

Yoga

Yoga, according to the sage Patanjali, is Chitta Vriti Nirodhah. It’s a mind AND body practice that promotes your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Yoga has eight limbs (ashtanga), namely:

  • Yama or abstinence
  • Niyama or observances
  • Asana or yoga postures
  • Pranayama or controlling one’s breath to stabilize the mind and emotions
  • Pratyahara or the withdrawal/restraining of the senses
  • Dharana or the act of concentrating
  • Dhyana, which translates to ‘meditation’ or the ultimate goal of yoga.
  • Samadhi, where you conquer meditation and gain exceptional concentration.

Meditation

Meditation, on the other hand, “is a practice that involves focusing or clearing your mind.”

Here, attention is directed towards thoughts and breathing.  After all, the way you breathe can relax your mind by clearing the thoughts inside your head.

There are several types of meditation practices, and they include:

  • Mindfulness meditation. Derived from Buddhist teachings, this type of meditation is all about paying attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind.
  • Spiritual meditation. This practice is all about gaining a deeper understanding of religion/spiritual belief and the divine being.
  • Focused meditation. This involves concentrating with the use of the five senses.
  • Movement meditation. Here, you move your body in order to ‘connect’ with the mind – and the universe.
  • Mantra meditation. In Hindu and Buddhist teachings, this meditation practice involves saying something (such as ‘om’) to clear the mind.
  • Transcendental meditation. Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, it’s designed to calm the mind and bring about a peaceful state.
  • Body scan meditation. Also known as progressive relaxation, it involves tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time.
  • Visualization meditation. As the name suggests, it pertains to visualizing certain images or sceneries to achieve relaxation.
  • Loving-kindness meditation. This practice helps strengthen one’s kindness, compassion, and feelings of acceptance.

Answer number 1: Yes, yoga is a form of meditation

For some people, yoga is a form of meditation for it fits under the description of ‘movement meditation.’ As I’ve mentioned, this practice is all about moving your body – which is something you do during the yoga asana/poses.

And while yoga remains to be one of the most famous forms of movement meditation, there are other ‘gentle’ forms of movement that fit the bill as well. Popular examples include tai chi and qi gong, though walking and gardening will do the trick too!

The best thing about movement meditation techniques such as yoga? It can help you develop body awareness and find ‘peace in action,’ among many other things.

1) Yoga meditation

Nothing qualifies yoga as a form of meditation than the aptly-named yoga meditation. As the name suggests, it merges yoga’s physical postures (asanas) with meditation practices.

Like most types of yoga, it can help stabilize your body – as well as your mind and spirit.

“The more you’re able to quiet your thoughts through yoga meditation, the more you experience a sense of true presence,” explains yoga teacher Wade Imre Morissette.

Benefits of yoga meditation

As these combine the best of both worlds, it’s not surprising that it offers many benefits – such as:

  • Reduced stress. Yoga meditation can relax your mind and body. This, in turn, activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Improved mental health. Yoga meditation can bring about mindfulness, enhanced mood, and resilience. These can improve general mental health, as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Better sleep. By reducing stress and enhancing your mental state, yoga meditation can help you sleep better as well.
  • Pain relief. Studies show that yoga meditation activates a part of the brain that helps deal with back pain.
  • Decreased inflammation. Yoga meditation may also help reduce inflammation, which, in the long run, may lead to diseases such as diabetes or cancer.
  • Lower blood pressure. As mentioned, yoga meditation helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the body also helps bring down blood pressure, which, in turn, helps lower your risk for heart disease.

How to perform yoga meditation

You can perform yoga meditation during the day, or the night before you go to sleep. It’s just a matter of following these quick steps:

  1. Get into a comfortable position. You can either sit or lie down. The savasana/corpse pose and the reclining bound angle pose are good options for the latter.
  2. Close your eyes and keep your palms faced upwards.
  3. Breathe deeply, allowing your belly to rise as you do so. Exhale slowly, getting rid of as much air as you can. You can also try alternate nostril breathing, where you use a finger to block one nostril as you breathe with the other (and vice-versa.)

For best results, do yoga meditation for at least 5 minutes every day.

2) Kundalini yoga

Considered by some as a type of meditation, Kundalini yoga combines movements, breathing exercises, and mantras.

Introduced in the 70s by Yogi Bhajan, it has become wildly popular amongst celebrities. Model Gisele Bündchen and comedian Russell Brand are just some of the practice’s die-hard fans.

Unlike most types of yogas, Kundalini is more ‘spiritual.’ While it involves poses, they aren’t the focus – unlike in Hatha or Vinyasa yoga.

Kundalini yoga follows these six components:

  • Opening chant or ‘tuning in’
  • Pranayama or breathing exercises (as warm-up)
  • Kriya, which is a sequence of postures, hand positions, sounds, and pranayama
    • Common poses include the lotus, archer, and cobra asanas
  • Relaxation to absorb the kriya
  • Meditation to cultivate awareness
  • Closing chant

Essentially, the goal of Kundalini yoga is to “increase your self-awareness by silencing your mind and unblocking your chakras so that your vital energy can flow freely.”

Benefits of Kundalini yoga

  • Spiritual enlightenment

As a more spiritual form of yoga, it can help you be more spiritually connected to yourself – and others.

  • Stress and anxiety relief

Studies show that practicing Kundalini for 2-3 months may help reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Better cognitive function

Research shows that Kundalini practitioners often demonstrate better reasoning and problem-solving skills.

  • Improved body positivity

Kundalini may help improve self-perception – making it beneficial to those suffering from body image issues (e.g., anorexia, bulimia).

Answer number 2: No, meditation is just a part of yoga.

Although some consider yoga as a form of meditation, some view meditation as more of a part of yoga.

After all, both have various similarities.

Both require immense focus and concentration. Moreover, both can help you feel relaxed, peaceful, self-aware, and more ‘connected’ to the universe.

Then again, they have differences too – which is why some view meditation as only a part of yoga.

How are yoga and meditation different?

It’s important that we go back to the definitions above. As mentioned, meditation is more of a mental practice, whereas yoga deals with both the body and the mind.

In other words, it’s the asanas or poses that set yoga apart from meditation.

During yoga, you hold a pose – or move from one pose to the next. These physical movements can help alleviate pain, muscle problems, and tension, something plain meditation is not able to do.

In most forms of meditation, you often have to stay in a non-yoga position – such as sitting or lying down. Unfortunately, some people may not tolerate being in this type of position for a prolonged time – which is why they opt to go for yoga instead.

That said, you can always assume a yoga position (if you want to) while meditating.

When does meditation happen in yoga?

It usually happens after the asana, which are postures that help you develop flexibility, strength, and stamina.

Meditation in yoga occurs in several phases. They are the:

  • Pranayama
  • Pratyahara
  • Dharana

These three eventually lead to dhyana, which is the ultimate goal of yoga.  Ultimately, these practices can eventually lead to the final stage of samadhi, where you conquer meditation and gain exceptional concentration.

In the end, you get to unify yourself with the higher reality – and reach the divine.

Achieving meditation during yoga

While it seems easy to achieve meditation during yoga, it actually involves a lot of concentration – and these things:

1) Prana

Yogis define prana as vital energy. And while this universal life force is present everywhere, some people can’t seem to increase their prana – or conserve what they have in their bodies.

This low prana is often the result of mental or emotional tiredness, so negative emotions end up eating you from the inside.

The bad news is you may not even notice that there is resentment bubbling up inside you.

Your ego may also be blocking the flow of energy to your body.

So if your mind is not strong and healthy right now, you’ll find it harder to meditate. Because of this, you may end up stuck in asanas or pranayama.

And while doing asanas will always help your physical body, having low prana will affect your mental and spiritual health. Remember: you need all of these to be ‘balanced’ in order to meditate.

Increasing your prana

If you find it hard to meditate no matter how many poses you assume, it’s possible that you’ve depleted your prana. In order to increase this flow of energy, it’s best to:

  • Balance your lifestyle.
  • Situate yourself in a place that doesn’t cut the energy flow (e.g., a concrete, windowless room will block the natural prana from coming in.)
  • Be one with nature.

2) Japa

According to yogis, Japa – or the repetition of mantras – also helps condition the mind for meditation. These bring energy (or prana) to the mind, which can help calm it and fight off stress.

Elaborates Georg Feuerstein of Yoga International:

“Mantra Japa produces positive mental tracks, helping us to gradually overcome spiritual darkness. It is a powerful technique for focusing the mind and for harnessing the body/mind’s subtle energies in completing the yogic path of self-transformation.”

3) Self-awareness

Self-awareness is all about focusing on yourself. It’s the practice of reflecting on your thoughts and actions – especially those that don’t align with your personal standards.

For this reason, experts believe that “Awareness in all its forms is the very core of meditation.”

True enough, “By practicing awareness… (we become) more at ease with the moment-to-moment unfolding of life itself.”

Doing Mindful Yoga before meditation

As it takes a lot of preparation to successfully meditate after yoga, many recommend doing mindful yoga beforehand.

Here, the focus is mind-body awareness instead of physical posture and bodily alignment.

This is made possible by Buddha’s four foundations of mindfulness practices, which are:

  • Mindfulness of the body
  • Mindfulness of feelings
  • Mindfulness of the mind
  • Mindfulness of dharma

Mindful yoga also requires body scanning. This is the practice of looking out for your thoughts and perspectives when you change postures – and as you maintain them for quite some time.

Mindful yoga allows you to meditate better for it can help you:

  • Open yourself
  • Develop a deeper sense of awareness
  • Be less reactive and more accepting

Better yet, it can help you build more compassion and non-judgment. Practicing mindful yoga regularly can help you face life’s challenges better as well.

Bottomline

As you see, yoga can be categorized as a form of movement meditation. Likewise, meditation can be defined as a part of yoga – and done after the asana.

Whatever you believe in, yoga and meditation (or a combination of both) can help you achieve a relaxed, peaceful mind. Given the many benefits they reap – including better mental and physical health in general – it’s something worth doing every day!

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