Are you looking to supplement your self-care/mental wellness routine, but between yoga and meditation, don’t know which practice to take up? These two seemingly similar practices indeed share some similarities, but at their core are quite different from each other and provide unique benefits to their practitioners.
Yoga vs Meditation. Yoga is both a physical and spiritual practice that involves maintaining difficult postures and controlling your breath for physical/mental health and relaxation. Meditation, on the other hand, trains your mind to be more attentive, aware, and stable through focus and mindfulness practices.
Keep reading to find out the key differences between these two practices and how they can help you improve your mental health, mood, and mindfulness.
Yoga and Meditation: How are they Different?
Most of us are generally familiar with what these two practices are, but are you truly familiar with the most fundamental differences between the two? These holistic practices share some features- but are mostly different from each other.
Yoga is a Holistic Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Practice
Yoga first originated in Northern India over 5,000 years ago (Source: YogaBasics). It became a sensation in the U.S. after yogis first visited the West to spread their knowledge in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
Yoga has greatly evolved over time, and the type of yoga you’re likely most familiar with is Hatha yoga. It is the most popular type of yoga practiced in the United States. It targets finding a “mind/body/spirit” balance through the maintenance of asanas (postures) and controlled breathing.
Through the maintenance of difficult asanas, yogis build physical strength over time through their practice. Through controlled breathing and focus, they also strengthen their mental and spiritual health. Yoga practices also trigger what is called a “relaxation response,” a physical response in which the fight or flight system is quieted and the autonomic nervous system is stabilized (Source: Very Well Mind).
Due to the focus on breathing and control, many people consider these aspects of yoga to be a form of meditation. While it isn’t necessarily meditation by definition, this particular part of yoga does provide some of the benefits of true meditation.
Meditation is a Mindfulness Practice
Meditation, on the other hand, is believed to have originated in India some several thousand years BC (Source: News Medical). It spread to neighboring countries and was slowly popularized throughout the globe and is a prominent aspect of some religions.
Meditation in the U.S. is mostly focused on sitting in silence and focusing all of your attention on an object of focus, usually your breathing. It emphasizes awareness- when you find yourself thinking of other things, you become aware and bring your focus back to your breath. Over time, it gets easier to remain undistracted.
The main idea of meditation is that we perceive our worlds through our brains, and through training our brains in this way, we can develop more stable, grounded, and healthy perspectives.
Many meditation practitioners start off listening to guided meditation tapes to help them get into the flow and eventually work their way towards solo-meditation, strictly guided by their experience based on what works best for them.
Yoga and Meditation: What are the Benefits?
These two practices pack in many unique benefits to individuals who try them. Let’s dive into the individual benefits of each of these practices so that you can choose which one suits your needs best (although nobody says you can’t try them both!).
Yoga for Strength, Relaxation, and Empowerment
Yoga is a very holistic practice and provides benefits that span across various aspects of human health- including strength, relaxation, and empowerment.
Practicing yoga helps us build muscle. Due to the practice of maintaining strenuous asanas (postures) for extended periods of time, muscle is built over time which allows yogis to continually make progress in their practice.
Many people find that the asanas utilized in yoga help promote functional fitness, meaning you develop muscle and strength in areas that will help you move better in daily life.
Yoga practices help initiate the relaxation response. This doesn’t mean a general feeling of calm- this actually occurs at the neurological level.
The fight or flight response affects us in our daily lives more than you might think. Tension headaches, shallow breathing, feelings of anxiety- these are all caused by our fight or flight response reacting unnecessarily, causing negative effects.
The relaxation response helps to turn off the fight-or-flight response and, according to Psychology Today, engages our parasympathetic nervous system to bring our body back to “pre-stress levels.”
This is helpful in combating symptoms of anxiety, OCD, and other stress-related mental illnesses.
Many fans of yoga report that their yoga practice gives them feelings of empowerment, which can be helpful in combating low self-esteem and symptoms of depression.
Yoga involves performing strenuous postures for extended periods of time, and as time passes and strength is built, practitioners can perform even more difficult postures. The feeling of doing hard things that your body was previously unable to do can cultivate intense feelings of empowerment and excitement- one of the biggest reasons people are drawn to yoga in the first place.
Are you interested in experiencing some of these benefits for yourself? Try this online Yoga Poses for Beginners Class to help you create healthy habits and grow in your practice. And if you need equipment, check out this 7-piece yoga set that includes a yoga mat, yoga blocks, yoga towels, and a stretch strap.
Meditation for Stress Reduction, Perspective, and Increasing Brain Capacity
Meditation involves training and strengthening our brains, and comes with collateral benefits that many practitioners of meditation enjoy- including stress reduction, gaining of perspective, and increasing brain capacity.
Similar to yoga, meditation also elicits the relaxation response in it’s practitioners.
One study found that over an 8-week period, participants who engaged in “mindfulness meditation” found reduced levels of cortisol and inflammation due to stress. Thus, it can also be beneficial for stress-related ailments like PTSD, IBS, and more (Source: Healthline).
High blood pressure can also be due to high stress levels, and it is believed meditation can help lower blood pressure in affected individuals.
One of the most prominent benefits in people who have tried meditation is their change in perspective (for the better).
Meditation helps promote self-awareness, which helps practitioners reduce harmful or toxic behaviors of theirs. It also helps to promote self-sufficiency in individuals who were previously not very independent.
Mindful meditation has also lead to a reduction in negative thought in people who practice it. Many people find their tolerance for stressful activities increases, and their tendency towards negative thought decreases.
This has led to many studies on the correlation between meditation and symptoms of depression, of which many have found that depressive symptoms are reduced following meditation treatments.
Increasing Brain Capacity
Like any other muscle in our body, we can exercise our brain to improve its functioning, and one of the best ways to do so is through meditation.
When you meditate, you’re focusing on an object (usually breathing) for extended periods of time. Many studies have found that your attention span is lengthened after meditation. Not only that, but your memory capacity increases as well. This is a huge benefit for older individuals who are seeking to keep their memory sharp as they age.
Interested in trying out meditation for some of these wonderful benefits? Check out this beginner’s guided meditation on Amazon here, or find one of many free guided meditations available on YouTube like this one.
Understanding the Differences in Meditation and Yoga
Yoga and meditation share plenty of benefits like promoting relaxation and reducing stress. If you’re looking to build physical strength and empowerment as well, try out yoga. If you’re wanting to sharpen up your memory and build a more positive outlook, give meditation a go. And if you like the sound of all of it, why not give both of them a try?
~As always, Namaste!