Meditation and Yoga – How Strong is the Relationship?

Living in these trying times I am constantly looking for ways to deal with and understand what is going on the world today. I also want to look at things with a new perspective. So I am practising a lot more of the ancient practices of meditation and yoga. You may think they are the same but through regular practice I have noticed some clear differences.

The goal of yoga is to create a union of the body and mind to enhance your wellness physically, mentally and spiritually. Chiefly yoga is a physical exercise to relieve muscle tension, pain, stiffness, etc. Meditation is the part of yoga where you try to relax your mind through awareness of your breathing.

As you can see the relationship between meditation and yoga is strong. There are real benefits in practising both as they can help you make real changes in your life. The aim of this blog post is to further clarify the differences between meditation and yoga but also how they are linked. Also it will highlight the benefits of both and why you should incorporate both practices into your day to day life.

Differences between Meditation and Yoga

Practising meditation and yoga are not new but ancient holistic approaches to healthy living. It is an opportunity for you to take time out to connect your mind and body. The main difference between them is the physical aspect of yoga which combines with mental training.

Flexibility, stretching and strength are foundational to yoga practices, where they aren’t in most methods of meditation. Yoga is an activity to maintain both physical fitness and mental peace. 

Meditation’s purpose is to focus your mind and help understand how you relate to experiences. You observe your thoughts without making any judgements. Your goal is to achieve higher awareness by eliminating distractions and improving your concentration. 

Meditation and Yoga Common Ground

While yoga is a physical activity it differs from all other exercises due to it being integrally linked to what is going on in your mind. It is not purely a physical activity. The training requires you to be present and relaxed by focusing on the breath and body. For many people practising yoga this is the hardest part of yoga to undertake

If you come from a fitness or sports background it can be very hard to accept you may have limitations. A key element of yoga is to not be competitive. Listen to your body and accept its capabilities rather than always pushing for extra. 

Connecting with your mind and spirit when practising yoga will allow you to be more open and accepting of your body’s limitations. When you have the right mindset you will appreciate your body and celebrate every opportunity you have to do physical activity.

Benefits of Meditation and Yoga

If you are looking to incorporating meditation and yoga into your life, I would fully encourage it. Both provide significant benefits which are detailed below in the four main areas.

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Cognitive 
  • Social

Physical Benefits

You may view meditation as something that only benefits the mind and spirit. There are also many ways it can improve your physical well-being. Mindfulness meditation is extremely effective in pain reduction. Studies in 2013 and 2016 showed positive results on how meditation can reduce the intensity of pain in the body and reduce inflammation.

Meditation is also powerful in helping to lower blood pressure and heart rate. A study in 2013 concluded that a mindfulness practice can be an effective treatment or supplement to medication in treating individuals with high blood pressure. 

Results from research looking at using mindfulness to lower heart rate were also outstanding. There was a significant decrease in both heart and respiratory rate, 6-8 months after mindfulness meditation was introduced.

Meditation and Yoga

Yoga’s physical benefits are more obvious than meditation. Regular yoga practice will improve your muscle strength, balance and flexibility. This is due to the variety of yoga poses. They challenge your whole body in a unique way.

A study of 26 male college athletes showed how yoga significantly increased balance and flexibility over a 10 week period. 

Another way that yoga is different from other exercises is that it takes your joints through their full range of motion. This provides fresh nutrients to your joint cartilage which prevents them from wearing out and developing arthritis. Yoga back-bends, forward bends and twists help to protect your spine and perfect your posture. 

Finally many yoga poses require you to lift your own weight. It is a great way to strengthen bones and reduce the chance of developing osteoporosis.

Psychological Benefits

Meditation is a powerful tool in improving and maintaining a strong psychological state. The benefits can be seen in daily activities like sleeping to help manage challenging situations like anxiety, stress or even treatment for addiction. 

If you struggle to fall asleep, meditation before bed will help not only help you fall asleep more easily but also give you a better sleep. A 2015 study reported positive results when mindfulness mediation was used as part of treatment for insomnia for older adults.

Using meditation to reduce anxiety and stress is not new, it is a core Buddhist teaching, Dukkha. Interestingly a study found that decreases in anxiety among study participants, whether or not they had a previously-present anxiety disorder. 

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) inflicts veterans with many damaging symptoms which impacts their ability to have fulfilling lives after serving. A recent study(9) showed how meditation helped alleviate PTSD in veterans and the potential of adding it to mental health services.

Yoga psychological benefits are less well known than its physical benefits but the psychological benefits are substantial. Depending on the style of yoga, the physical activity can be similar to a cardio workout. Those workouts release serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

Serotonin decreases anxiety and depression, while dopamine improves mood. Because yoga combines exercise with meditation, relaxation and socialisation, it is a great device in helping regulate your stress response system. By lowering blood pressure and heart rate and improving respiration, yoga helps you deal with anxiety and depression.

It is another natural way to relieve anxiety and stress like exercise, meditation, relaxation or socialising.

Cognitive Benefits

Meditation allows you to relax your mind which in turn provides an opportunity to rewire your brain. The cognitive benefits of meditation help to improve your focus, your learning ability and your working memory. These are areas that many people find very difficult to improve but can make a massive difference in many areas of their lives.

A study looked at the relationship between mindfulness and memory. They tested a number of areas including focus and working memory. Participants who did a two week meditation course showed significant increases in the tested areas compared to the control group.

Another study looked at the connection between meditation and neuroplasticity. Meditation increased activity in parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, problem solving and more. 

A regular yoga practice can have some dramatic effects on your brain. It can actually turn back years on it! In a 2017 a 12 week study was conducted on adults over 55 with mild cognitive impairment. Members of the group were either practising Kundalini yoga or doing memory training exercises.

All participants observed an improvement in memory. However the yoga group also reported gains in executive functionality and emotional resilience. The reason for the gains are unclear but there is a strong feeling that the chanting in yoga strengthens verbal and visual skills. 

Social Benefits

The way you interact with others in your daily life can have a massive impact on your quality of life. A study showed that practising metta meditation can help reduce negative social emotions and decrease social isolation. There have also been other studies that show how meditation can decrease the feelings of loneliness that many people struggle with. Finally practising compassionate meditation results in you actually acting with more compassion and generosity.

Meditation and Yoga

Yoga is one of the most sociable activities you can do. By joining a yoga group or studio you will have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people. It is a great way to develop new relationships and friendships. Furthermore it can actually help to alleviate social anxiety.

Taking yourself out of your comfort zone and learning a new skill is a fantastic way to meet new people. The relaxing nature of practising yoga increases endorphin levels which can alter your perception of your environment and people in a positive way.

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