Yoga and meditation are both great practices for your mind, body and soul.
But what are some of the similarities and differences between these two popular practices?
We asked a selected group of experts to share their thoughts on yoga and meditation, discussing how they compare and what they do and don’t have in common.
Here’s what they said.
Meditation Is Part Of Yoga
Jen Wilking, Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Yoga Therapist And Yoga / Meditation Teacher
One thing that I’d love to add to the discussion is that meditation is part of yoga.
Many people think of yoga as poses and physical movements, but there are eight limbs of yoga. Two of the limbs are philosophy, one is breathing, one is the movement of yoga postures, and four of the limbs are related to meditation.
It’s often helpful to pair an active yoga practice with a meditation practice, because sitting in stillness and silence can be very difficult. Movement can prepare the body to rest.
Also, guided meditation is an effective and supportive way to begin meditating, because it gives the mind a focal point.
I highly recommend trying the practice of yoga nidra (yogic sleep) which guides you through centering, a body scan, breath awareness, imagery, and more.
Insight Timer is a free app with tens of thousands of guided meditations available including a robust selection of yoga nidra practices.
Yoga Is Meditation In Motion
Kat Cynewski, Registered Yoga Teacher and Founder of Be Well Events
Mediation is the practice of finding stillness to discover the mind and inner desires to receive more mental clarity, focus, and ease in your life.
I tell my students that meditation is the most advanced yoga practice because it requires you to be still and go against what most of us are conditioned to do in today’s society.
Although physically speaking it is easier, most people have a strong resistance to becoming still and quieting the mind, so in many senses it’s in fact the most difficult.
Yoga is meditation in motion. You are receiving the benefits of meditation on the mind while also receiving benefits in the body in the form of mobility, pain reduction, and reduced inflammation.
While moving through postures you will eventually find that you can tune out of your busy mind and focus on the pose and the breath, meditation in motion.
At the end of practice, you have the opportunity to find stillness, which many find easier after moving the body and exerting excess energy.
Both options are great for helping reduce stress and improve mental clarity but when choosing the best option for you, I would consider whether it’s strictly the mental benefits you are after or if the pain reduction, strength, and mobility are important to you as well.
Both Yoga And Meditation Should Be Approached With Care And Guidance
Lindsey Pearson, Certified Yoga Teacher, Mindfulness Coach and Founder of Do You Mind(Fully)?
Both yoga and meditation can be deeply spiritual practices that allow you to peel back the layers of distraction and see your true self.
Yoga is more than physical poses (asana) and has foundational elements of suggested behaviors (like service of others, non-harm) and mindsets that aims to align us with our best selves.
Yoga reveals you to yourself – your strength, your breath, your inflexibility and how you respond to challenges.
Meditation is similar in that it reveals how your mind works. Some argue that yoga is the physical practice that readies the body for meditation. Others say that yoga is meditation in motion.
I would say that yoga and meditation are beautiful practices but they should be approached with care and with guidance. They are not the easy band-aid they often made out to be and are not one-size-fits-all.
Having proper yoga instruction and knowing how to make adjustments for your body is key, especially if working with injuries.
It’s the same with meditation. To look inside one’s own mind can sometimes feel like going to a dangerous neighborhood by yourself. To see the thoughts, feelings, or trauma we have avoided for years, that we may have been masking with food, booze or Netflix can be painful stuff.
That’s why having a teacher or a support system is so important.
Yoga And Meditation Are Intertwined
Anita Perry, Yoga and Meditation Instructor
When most people think about yoga, immediately their thoughts go to the physical aspect – usually the staples such as Downward-Facing Dog or Tree Pose.
But students of yoga know that the physical practice, the asana, is only one part of yoga.
Yoga is a lifestyle with guidelines for not only the physical, but also a code of conduct for living a good, clean, healthy life (Yamas and Niyamas) which includes seeking enlightenment through meditation.
Therefore, yoga and meditation are intertwined.
In my classes, I teach both yoga and meditation as the meditation helps set up the student to succeed both on and off the mat.
The breathing techniques that start each class help the student to get deeper into the physical pose.
The meditation and reflection at the end of class, help the student set intentions and affirmations that help them navigate life’s challenges throughout their day and week.
Yoga And Meditation Can Complement Each Other
Alexandra Ellis, Mobility Coach and Creator of AE Wellness
When it comes to mindfulness, there are many ways to help reduce stress.
Yoga, as a physical practice, can help to reduce stress and anxiety through movement. Tied with deep breathing, it taps into your physiology and deeply calms your nervous system.
To make your practice even more mindful, try linking each moment to a breath and taking your focus inward.
Yoga and meditation go hand in hand because the better you feel in your body, the easier it is to sit quietly in meditation.
In fact, yoga began as a way for monks to prepare their body for hours of seated meditation!
It all boils down to what works best for you that you’ll be able to stick with – if you enjoy sitting quietly, then try to do so at least five minutes a day.
If you’re more of a movement type of person, you can take a walk outside (without your headphones!) and pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.
And if you enjoy stretching and breathing – do yoga. There’s no right or wrong, just what works best for you!
They Both Allow You To Explore Your Mind, Body And Spirit In Different Ways
Sherrell Moore-Tucker, Speaker, Author and Wellness Expert
Yoga and meditation are both mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness practices typically have one or more of the following qualities: Attentiveness, presence, openness, and intention.
One or all of these elements may be found in both practices. Further, yoga and meditation are both considered practices.
Though goals may be achieved in both modalities they are not goal-oriented per se. Both practices allow practitioners to explore themselves mind, body, spirit just in different ways.
Let’s explore the difference a little more. In the US, a yoga class usually involves movement, while a meditation class is commonly practiced seated or lying.
Both provide are mind-body modalities that involve the entire body just in different ways. A meditation class may invite you to scan your body mentally versus exploring and scanning your body through physical movement in a yoga class.
Although there is significant research to support the benefits of both yoga and meditation, the practices may not be beneficial for everyone.
For example, a seated guided meditation may be a trigger for someone dealing with trauma. As a veteran, I am very sensitive to those who are new to meditation because being still can be unnerving for someone processing trauma. What may be soothing and calm for one maybe a nightmare for someone else.
On the other hand, meditation may be a great option for someone who deals with chronic stress and needs to learn how to relax.
In the case of yoga, all yoga is not created equal. Check-in with yourself to determine the right type of class for you.
Despite what you see on social media there is more to yoga than hot and power yoga. Yoga is a low-impact mind-body modality so if you’re new to movement yoga is a great way to ease into moving your body whether you’re recovering from an injury or you just want to try something different.
Instead of following trends, ask yourself what’s best for you.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging yourself by doing something out of the box but don’t let someone force you to do something just because it works for them.
Ask questions, do your own research, and proceed with information in hand.
Yoga And Meditation Are ‘First Cousins’
Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director and Founder of Mindful Frontiers
Yoga and meditation are ‘first cousins’ dating back thousands of years to devotional and intellectual communities in Asia.
The histories and characteristics of both meditation and yoga are quite rich and complex. A fundamental similarity between yoga and meditation is the use of breath. Both pay close attention to how the breath is used to guide practices.
In yoga, the breath is used to focus the flow of postures or asanas, while in meditation the breath is an anchor for present-moment awareness.
That simple comparison is just one small point and falls quite short of the full array of mutual relationships between yoga and meditation.
Yoga is a holistic discipline that includes six paths or branches, each representing a particular approach to life: Hatha, Raja, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Tantra. Hatha yoga is the type most often practiced by US yogis.
Within some of the branches there are eight “limbs” or subtle disciplines.
The final five yoga limbs share similarities with meditation in which breath awareness, deep concentration, focus of present moment and ultimate enlightenment are practiced.
Thinking about the differences between yoga and meditation, other than some historic origins, language and syntax of limbs and branches, is beyond necessity for the daily practitioner.
To fully explain the spiritual differences is the subject of a lengthy thesis. Suffice it to say that one would be better off understanding how to incorporate them both into a personal self-care and mental health practice.
Meditation includes many different flavors and traditions. Its history is rich and deep and spans thousands of years as well.
Meditation is a spiritual and contemplative practice that has as its origin the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha.
A couple of the more well-known teachings include the Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path. Within these are more detailed explanations referred to as Buddha Dharma.
These teachings contain sub-categories such as Wisdom, Ethics, Mindfulness, Concentration. Both yoga and meditation have a goal to reach enlightenment or Samadhi.
Currently, the approaches of meditation that are most commonly practiced in the US are Concentration (Zen & Brahma Vihara), Insight, (Vipassana), Giving and Receiving (Tonglen) and open awareness (Shikantaza).
It would be impossible for me to choose between yoga and meditation as they are both extremely important for my mental and physical health.
Two of my vital daily needs are physical movement (exercise), and self-reflection. Hatha yoga fulfils the need for physical movement, while meditation fulfils the need for self-reflection.
Both of these can easily be incorporated into a weekly schedule by either alternating every other day or doing shorter, daily practices of each.
Ultimately, the choice is a personal one and taking classes in both yoga and meditation before deciding for oneself is highly recommended. Nonetheless, my personal advice is do them both!
The overall benefits of incorporating both outweigh trying to decide between them. When it comes to self-care and mental health, a well-rounded practice is the best way to go.
Find A Great Yoga Or Meditation Teacher
Christina Ionno, Registered Yoga Teacher
The main similarities of both yoga and meditation are that they are rooted in pranayama (breath-work).
The breath moves energy in your body. You can use your breath to change your reality. Your posture is affected by your breath and vice versa.
Infusing the correct pranayama into your asana (physical yoga as we westerners know it) and meditation practice is vital to shift the prana (life force) in your body.
Yoga is not yoga if you are not breathing correctly. This is why you will hear teachers cue your breath many times in a yoga or meditation class.
According to Ashtanga yoga, the main difference between the two is that yoga ‘asana’ is the postures and the more physical aspect of practice, while meditation ‘Dhyana’ deals primarily with the mind and Journey inward.
These two go hand in hand. One complements the other. Yoga is meditative movement. Meditation is for anyone with a consciousness. You can do it any place, any time. So I would suggest starting there.
However, there are so many different types of yoga practices you can do as well. Chair yoga, restorative yoga and yin yoga are all easy gateway forms of asana you can incorporate into your daily life.
It’s all about the teacher that you connect with. A great teacher will meet you where you are and curate to your needs. Private sessions or videos can be an excellent way to start out. Correct form is important in yoga asana to ensure no injuries along the way.
Yoga And Meditation Go Hand In Hand
Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez, Yoga Teacher and Mindful Business Advisor
Yoga and meditation are related to each other and most of the time, they go hand-in-hand.
Yoga is more than just the healthy workout that it has become today. It’s an ancient spiritual practice that involves training the mind and body to become self-aware.
Yoga (a Sanskrit word for union), as a whole, consists of eight limbs or paths, of which the yoga postures (or the asana path) that a lot of people are engaging in now, are just part of it, as well as the meditation (dhyana).
That said, meditation is part of the yoga discipline. Both meditation and asana yoga have great benefits to mental health and it’s a bonus that they can be practiced anywhere.
They can help relieve stress and are both components of mindful living since these practices increase awareness of self.
Meanwhile, the main difference between the two is the involvement of physical activity, in which yoga is more on bodily movements that can positively affect health, while meditation is simply focusing on the mind and your breath to achieve mental clarity and relaxation.
Between the two, which one should you choose? This will depend on your overall wellness goals.
While both can be extremely beneficial for both mind and body, you can choose to practice only one or the other.
If you’re constantly stressed out at work or you feel like you have an information overload, meditating can help clear your mind so as to eliminate stress.
But if you naturally have racing thoughts that you find hard to tame, you can start with yoga to focus on your breath and be more in tune with yourself.
Various yoga postures can improve on your breath control (pranayama) and it can be the first step towards living in the present moment.
In addition, if your goal is overall wellness or a better state of mind and body, then yoga is the ideal practice as it involves breath control and working physically for the postures.
If you can’t seem to pay attention to your yoga class, why not try meditation so you can sit in silence and focus on your thoughts?
Don’t be discouraged if you ‘can’t’ meditate. The asana path is a more accessible and doable practice since not all people find meditation to be an easy thing to do.
But consistently doing yoga postures and breathwork techniques, you may eventually find that meditation becomes more doable – and everything will fall into place.
To sum it up: both yoga and meditation have their own benefits but they differ in the involvement of physical activity.
You can practice one or the other, or you can even do both.
As you go on, you may become more curious about the overall practice. Who knows? You might just do all steps of the discipline to reach your full potential. Find what works for you.