In today’s busy world, even the thought of slowing down is a quickly erased fantasy. We are taught to go, go… and then go some more! But all the while our brains and bodies are craving opportunities for rest and recharge.
Two timeless types of downtime that have gone mainstream are yoga and meditation. But you’re busy and can’t possibly have time for both. So, which one should you choose to take up? Meditation or Yoga?
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a time of complete stillness. You sit and focus on one thing and one thing only. For many, it’s focusing on their thoughts and observing without judgment. For others, it’s focusing on their breath and how it fills the body. This helps the mind focus and slow down, which causes each breath to slow and deepen.
Some use an object like flowers or candles, while others may use soft, soothing music to help them fall into that deep sense of relaxation. Some use chants to focus the mind on the breath and the feeling of their vocal cords working.
It’s like being asleep, but you’re awake. The awareness of the outside world falls away into the infinity of your inner self, and suddenly the whole universe is at your fingertips.
Meditation is about finding relaxation and peace, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sitting perfectly still and focusing on just one thing isn’t something we as people have been programmed to do.
As you start meditating, everything comes into sharper focus. Suddenly all you can think about is the fact that your face itches or your feet ache, and that’s all you can seem to focus on. But you’re supposed to be still, which means that meditation can be challenging.
But don’t give up. When you do finally get there, it’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before. It’s ecstasy, jubilation and nirvana. You come out of it feeling such peace that you know you’ll never want to miss out on that feeling again.
Types of Meditation
Meditation comes in many different forms. These are just a few to help you see the possibilities of a meditation practice that fits into your life.
There are two main types of meditation: guided and unguided.
Guided meditation is where you have someone else walk you through the meditation, whether that’s from taking a class or listening to a guided meditation audio file.
This is great for mindfulness beginners, but I always found it to be somewhat restricting. If you like to go at your own pace and find guided meditation brings you out of your zone, then this might not be the best fit for you.
Unguided simply means you are practicing it by yourself with no outside help. It’s you going it alone. If you find yourself getting too distracted, then a guided meditation might be a better bet.
Types of meditation:
- Focused meditation – using an object as a point of focus
- Body scan – perform a mental scan from top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top, being aware of how your body feels
- Noting – when you get distracted from your focus, note what has diverted your attention and give it space to fade away
- Visualization – replacing the breath with a mental image to focus on
- Reflection – asking yourself a question in the second person and concentrate on the feelings the question generates
- Walking meditation – walking mindfully, focusing on syncing your steps with each breath
The History of Meditation
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when meditation began. Numerous writers, philosophers and ancient texts have differing opinions as to its origin. Some speculate that meditation has been around for as long as humanity has.
There have been drawings from ancient India dating back to 5,000 BC of people sitting in the traditional meditation pose of legs crossed, hands on knees, eyes closed, or focused on a fixed spot.
Early forms of meditation can also be traced back to ancient China, from around 600-300 BC. Meditation has historically been linked to religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
All of the documentation has come together, forming what meditation is today—which is less about any individual religion and more about the benefits behind the meditative practice itself.
What is Yoga?
Ask 100 people why they do yoga, and you will get 100 different answers. Okay, maybe not quite that many, but the answers will vary widely.
Modern yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice centered around focusing on the breath while performing varying poses while keeping your mind grounded.
Yoga can be referred to as the cessation of a wandering mind. This refers to written documentation called “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” that has been around for thousands of years. This documentation also breaks yoga down into an eight-limbed system—with the goal being to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Keep in mind that yoga is challenging. I’ve done several different types of yoga, and most of them are physically demanding, especially if you aren’t in the greatest shape. The only yoga experience I didn’t have aching muscles was restorative/relaxation yoga. You basically lie down and hold the positions for forever-and-a-day.
Yoga is a practice that will keep you loose, limber and will help to alleviate—and even eradicate—lingering aches and pains that your body has become accustomed to having.
Yoga has many different styles that are perfect for absolutely anyone, no matter what they’re searching for. It can help with chronic pain and calming of the mind. You can push the envelop and become much more flexible than you ever thought possible. Whatever your goal, yoga can help you get there.
Types of Yoga
Yoga has been adapted many-times-over to fit almost everyone, no matter where you are in your self-healing journey. Here are just a few types of yoga, so you can get an idea as to how the practice can enhance your life.
- Vinyasa – the most athletic style of yoga: the focus being on on postures
- Iyengar – precise movements while focusing on the breath
- Kundalini – one part spiritual, one part physical, all about releasing negative energy while focusing on specific breath patterns
- Bikram – hot yoga or yoga practiced in a sauna-like-setting
- Restorative – concentrates on winding down after a long day; positions are more relaxed and held for longer periods
A Brief History of Yoga
Similar to meditation, the origin of yoga has been debated and discussed in great detail. Some believe that it has been around since the dawn of civilization. It is said to have begun way before any sort of religious system was was conceived.
The historical evidence shows that yoga began around 2700 BC. This date is documented in writings from Buddhism, Vedas, and Jainism.
Throughout history, yoga has slowly been refined into what we know today. While many do not follow the fundamental principles of yoga enlightenment, or Yogi, it is beautiful to see so many taking the time for self-healing. People continue to expand the energies and vibrations emanating from inside themselves.
Meditation or Yoga
Now that we know a little about what both meditation and yoga are—as well as their history—it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. What can meditation and yoga do for you? Why you would want to take them up as a practice? Are they really as effective as they are purported to be? And how they may not be so disparate from each other as they might first appear.
We’ve come down to meditation vs yoga. Ready? Fight!
The benefits of meditation are:
- Reduces stress
- Promotes emotional health
- Relieves anxiety
- Lengthens attention span
- Enhances self-awareness
- Improves sleep
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Improves concentration
- Helps with addiction
- Reduces negative emotions
- Increases patience
- Improves relationships
- Helps reduce and manage chronic pain
That’s a lot of benefits, many of which are backed by science. Meditation may seem like a miracle cure, but it’s not. Meditation requires work coupled with continuous practice.
But are there any cons? Yes, there are. Nothing is ever 100% good or 100% bad.
Cons of meditation:
- May require a teacher
- Have to practice consistently to see progress
There’s also the fact that meditation may conjure-up past emotional wounds that haven’t been fully healed. These issues can stem from traumatic times in your life that you’ll be prompted to relive. While dealing with this unresolved emotional pain, you will be taking an unexpected side-trip on your journey to inner-peace.
You could choose to seek the help of a therapist or counselor in order to work through these road blocks.
Meditation can serve as a sign-post, pointing directly to this unresolved mental garbage. It can help you to heal and move-on in significant ways, enabling you to grow as a person.
As the Buddha so succinctly put it:
“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.”
Yoga – Pros and Cons
And now it’s time for yoga to present its more-than-convincing argument.
The benefits of yoga are:
- Improves strength, balance, and flexibility
- Eases arthritis symptoms
- Helps with back pain
- Enhances heart health
- Improves sleep
- Helps manage stress
- Promotes self-healing
- Improves posture
- Increases blood flow
- Boosts your immune system
- Helps you to focus
- Releases tension
- Enhances mindfulness
As you can see, yoga is more active activity than meditation, which gives it a physical advantage as it improves strength and flexibility. Still, it also shares healing properties with meditation such as managing stress and helping you to be present.
Cons of yoga:
- Injury risks
- Finding a guide/mentor
- Feelings of intimidation
- Social pressure
Since yoga is a physical activity, you could injure yourself if you aren’t practicing postures correctly. This means you need to find a trained teacher who can help guide you through the correct way to do the poses. That means in-person visits and yoga classes, both of which cost money.
That will also require going into a social setting where you might initially be nervous. If you’re a beginner, you may not be able to perform all the postures, inspiring a temporary loss of confidence.
Then there’s the social pressure from being around experienced yogis who are all seemingly thin vegans that drink celery water and green juice all day.
This is a shameful misconception because yoga isn’t like that at all. It’s an inclusive activity that anyone at any age and fitness level can feel welcome to participate in.
How Meditation and Yoga are Interconnected
Yes, yoga and meditation are distinctly separate practices. Still, I have noticed that with yoga, a little bit of meditation sneaks its way into every class I’ve taken. Whether it’s chanting or focusing on your breath, there’s always something to help still your thoughts.
They both work off of each other to promote self-care and heal you from the inside-out. Meditation and yoga are symbiotically linked to each other—as well as mindfulness—which leads to a happier, peaceful life.
More insightful words from the Buddha:
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
Meditation vs Yoga – Which One Should You Take Up?
That’s a question that you will need to answer for yourself. If you want work on being more in the present, sitting and focusing on your breath, meditation is the way to go. If the thought of sitting still for more than two minutes is enough to make you run for the hills, then yoga might be an alluring alternative.
However if you are seeking a complete transformational experience: body, mind and soul; why not do both?