Yoga And Meditation Are ‘First Cousins’

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 that follow this order: “ethical standards, yama; self-discipline, niyama; posture, asana; breath extension or control, Pranayama; sensory withdrawal, pratyahara; concentration, dharana; meditation, dhyana; and ecstasy or final liberation, samadhi.” (Yoga Journal- The Branches of the Yogi Tree).  The last five yoga limbs share similarities with meditation in which breath awareness, deep concentration, focus of present moment and ultimate enlightenment are practiced. 

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 as well and spans thousands of years. 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 fulfills the need for physical movement while meditation fulfills the need for self-reflection. Both of these can easily be incorporated into a weekly schedule by either alternating every other day or doing short, 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. 

Namasté and Be Well.

Published in Human Window By Martin Caparrotta Updated on 24 October 2020

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