The terms mindfulness and yoga are thrown around so much today that it can be hard to decipher what each one actually means.
You’re on the hunt for answers. What are the differences and similarities between mindfulness vs yoga? How are these two terms defined by experts, and what are their historical roots?
You may have heard about their many benefits, like stress relief and improved flexibility. You may be under the impression that yoga is purely a physical fitness exercise and mindfulness is a mental exercise. I’m here to tell you it’s not that simple.
Luckily, I put together a simple guide to teach you more about these ancient healing techniques and how they relate to one another.
After reading this article, you’ll find that mindfulness and yoga are more similar than they are different. They share similar histories, benefits, and overall goals for your wellbeing.
Essentially the two are intricately related to one another. You cannot do yoga without incorporating mindfulness into your practice.
Mindfulness vs Yoga – Key Differences
The most important difference between mindfulness and yoga is that one is a state of mind and one is a practice that works to bring that state of mind to fruition.
Mindfulness is the state of mind. It is a state of mental and physical awareness of the present moment, situation, and emotions you’re facing without expressing judgement or analysis.
I love renown spiritual leader, Zen master, and mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s definition of mindfulness. He believes that:
“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”
Mindfulness isn’t just about healing ourselves, but also about healing our relationships and the world as a whole. It is a state of mind that allows us to promote this healing and connectivity through non-judgmental awareness.
So how do you harness mindfulness for yourself? One way is by selecting a practice that facilitates this mind and body state of mindfulness. The two most well-known examples of mindfulness practices are meditation and yoga.
Both meditation and yoga exist to promote an internal state of mindfulness. However, meditation is typically focused purely inwards, while yoga promotes mindfulness by focusing your awareness on a specific posture or pose.
Yoga is a highly physical activity. In the United States today, we often forget about the mindful aspect of yoga. Historically, mindfulness is an integral part of yoga practice and is important if you want to experience the full range of healing benefits yoga can provide.
Mindfulness and yoga have their differences, but they truly are much more similar to each other than anything. Here are five key similarities between mindfulness vs yoga.
1 – Historical Roots
The concept of mindfulness emerged as a spiritual idea in the East first through Hinduism, and was later adopted by Buddhism.
Hinduism is perhaps the oldest religion in the world that is still widely practiced today. Early Hindu traditions can be traced back over 4,000 years to this Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan. Mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation are found in important foundational Hindu texts like the Bhagavad Gita.
Mindfulness is also integral to the Buddhist faith. Buddhism was first introduced in India around 450 B.C.E by the Buddha, who was originally named Siddhartha Gautama. Generally speaking, a Buddhist’s ultimate goal is to reach enlightenment. In order to set foot on the path towards enlightenment, you must practice mindfulness, or Sati.
Yoga naturally came to be as mindfulness was introduced to the world. It is cited as a way to practice mindfulness in the Bhagavad Gita and the Rig Veda, and yoga was adopted by Buddhists as a practice to help guide them towards enlightenment.
Not only are mindfulness and yoga’s historical origins intricately bound together, but these concepts also traveled to the West in a two for one package deal.
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the concept of mindfulness to a mainstream Western audience. He established a center for mindfulness at The University of Massachusetts Medical School where he developed the revolutionary Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
MBSR uses both meditation and yoga practices to foster mindfulness in an individual. Kabat-Zinn helped introduce the United States to mindfulness by simultaneously introducing yoga as an integral practice in the MBRS program. Yoga helped to establish a regimen of mindfulness in a participant’s everyday life.
In Buddhist traditions, mindfulness is an important element of the spiritual route to enlightenment.
In a Western and secular context, mindfulness can help you find inner peace. But what is inner peace? Is it another buzzword that tries to sell you happiness?
The answer is no. In fact, inner peace has a precise definition and can be measurably attained through mindfulness practices. Ultimately, inner peace is the primary goal of mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness encourages you to let go of judgements and to just be present in the moment. Inner piece is mindfulness in its final form. It’s the ability to remain calm and regulate your emotions in any situation. It’s the state of being at peace with your life and who you are.
You can achieve a state of inner peace if you dedicate yourself to a regular practice of mindfulness techniques like yoga. Studies show that people who take regular yoga classes have significantly less anxiety than those who don’t. Yoga is even recommended as a treatment for anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One scientific study conducted on healthy adults between the ages of 65-85 found that a routine yoga practice over the course of six months can greatly improve a person’s quality of life.
Mindfulness through daily yoga practices has proven to improve the lives of thousands of people by reducing anxiety, improving the quality of life, and inspiring inner peace.
3 – Focus on Breathwork
A central tenet of mindfulness practice is breathwork. Many meditation and yoga practices incorporate elements of breathwork into their techniques.
Mindful breathing means focusing your present awareness on each breath. When you concentrate on your breathing, you enter a calm and tranquil state of mind. Experts claim that breathwork reduces stress and anxiety. It is a fantastic grounding technique that promotes the state of mindfulness.
Since yoga is one primary form of a mindfulness practice, it also uses breathwork techniques to foster tranquility and serenity. In fact, focusing on deep breathing is essential to yoga. It’s not just about putting your body into different poses and contortions. It’s also about regulating your breathing so that the energy can flow through every inch of your body.
Breathwork is what connects the physicality of yoga to mindfulness. If you simply practice the physical body exercises in your yoga class, you’ll get a good workout and not much else.
When you truly dedicate yourself to a yoga practice, you must dedicate yourself to both the poses and to connecting your body and your mind through transformative breathwork.
4 – Build Connection Between Mind and Body
Mindfulness is all about connection. It improves the relationship between you and others, you and the world, and you and yourself. That means fostering a connection between your mind and your body.
You already know that breathwork is a fantastic tool for mind and body communication. It propels energy throughout your body and helps you remain mindful and focused while you practice the physical yoga poses.
Mindfulness also helps you understand your body and what it needs. It can make you more aware of when you’re hungry and when you’re full, or when you’re tense and when you’re relaxed. Your bodily sensations and feelings often give you a window into how you’re feeling inside if you just know how to be aware and pay attention.
The definition of the term “yoga” even implies this mind body connection. It means to yoke, or to unite. It brings together the mind and body into one practice by asking you to focus your mind on your body in specific positions.
When your mind and body are able to communicate with one another, you will gain a more comprehensive understanding of your wants, needs, and goals for the future.
5 – Heal from Mental and Physical Ailments
Scientific evidence supports the fact that mindfulness and yoga are both fantastic for treating a variety of mental and physical illnesses.
We already discussed how multiple studies show evidence that yoga and mindfulness can help treat anxiety disorders and PTSD. Additionally, researchers proved that mindfulness can treat treatment resistant major depressive disorder.
In fact, there is a branch of cognitive therapy called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) that was developed to combine traditional cognitive therapies with techniques from Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program. One study found that MBCT was just as effective as a course of antidepressants for treating recurrent depressive episodes.
MBCT includes body focused meditations and yoga practices to help quell problematic depressive or anxious thought patterns and instead promote non-judgmental awareness in a tough moment.
Yoga and mindfulness can help treat physical conditions too. Yoga helps to increase blood flow throughout your body, which can provide positive impacts in a number of ways. Yoga can help fight inflammation, blood clots, and heart disease.
Not only that, but yoga and mindfulness are both excellent stress relievers. Those who practice mindfulness regularly often say that it’s the perfect escape. There is scientific evidence that yoga decreases your blood pressure, which is also related to stress.
Use This Knowledge Wisely
We covered a lot of information, so here’s a quick recap:
Mindfulness and yoga are much more similar than they are different. They were born of the same roots, offer many of the same health benefits, and follow the same goal of discovering inner peace.
Mindfulness and yoga are so intricately connected because yoga is a practice that helps you foster the state of mindfulness.
Now that you know what makes mindfulness vs yoga different and similar, you have an understanding of the role mindfulness can play in your yoga practice.
Mindfulness isn’t something you do. It’s a state of mind that has spiritual roots and can be achieved through mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation.
Yoga isn’t just about getting physically fit. It’s about improving the connection between your body and mind and ultimately finding inner peace through mindfulness.
Understanding the relationship between mindfulness and yoga helps you establish the perfect routine for your needs. It gives you a deeper understanding of the function and importance of yoga as a practice. Most importantly, it puts you on a clearer path towards self-fulfillment and inner peace.
Now you have the tools and the education to start a new mindfulness practice today. What path will you choose?