There was a point in time that as teachers we would say “I teach Yoga”, inevitably we also meant Meditation. Or at least to be a source of someone that knows the concepts and principles of meditation.
Both Yoga and Meditation has its origins in the Vedas, the oldest written texts of Hinduism, dating from 1700-1100 BCE. And we learn about this in yoga school.
Its happened to me before where I’ve been in circles where I say something like “I just got done teaching a meditation class” and someone will say “Oh I didn’t know you taught meditation. I thought just yoga”
What has mainstream yoga and meditation turned into?
As these practices become more and more mainstream their definitions become skewed or perhaps isolated. We like clear lines and clear definitions of things which I totally appreciate too.
But when something has depth, it cannot be defined by one photo or one word. And the way that we receive information now, is typically through one image or one word.
For this reason, we may see or experience things like:
Yoga is purely physical. It’s a type of exercise. And I see a photo like this:
Meditation is not physical. It’s being still. And I see a photo like this:
From the pieces of information above, we can then make a general assumption that these two things must be unrelated. They look nothing like each other.
And as someone that has been teaching in these circles I can also understand where the confusion might come in.
Just the other day one of my dear students texts me and says,
“I just read your post about meditation and yoga and I was just reading this piece yesterday. I wish more teachers were explaining yoga beyond just the postures.”
The piece she is mentioning says,
“If yoga were a living being, meditation would be its body. Yoga is meditation. And meditation is yoga. Or rather, yoga, at heart, is a meditative endeavor, and meditation is a fundamentally yogic exercise.”
So beautifully said. And I can’t seem to find the author on this. If you are the author please let me know! I would love to credit you.
As teachers of these practices, we’re not assisting our students in the classroom in making the connection. We’re falling short in these teachings. I would say primarily in the yoga world.
And then there’s mindfulness.
Which often gets lumped in with meditation and used interchangeably.
And while this debate has been around for centuries way before this was even mainstream I would partly blame medical studies on this. Because as they are putting out amazing research such as THIS, and THIS, they lack a concrete definition. In a scientific study, definitions and a clear program to follow are so important in order to determine any significant results. So this mixing of meditation, mindfulness, mindfulness meditation, therefore, causes confusion among practitioners. Understandable.
The media has now latched on to this potent word and it’s in everything. Furthermore causing more confusion. It seems like everything we do now is “mindful”
So, what’s the deal?
How do these three relate? And how do they differ?
Why are long-time standing teachers like Elizabeth Rainey making statements like this:
“I am sad. Sad that the term ‘yoga teacher’ has been highjacked and when I tell someone what I do, I not only have to add “and meditation” because meditation is not understood as the beautiful crown jewel of yoga that it is but I have to explain over and over again the depth of what yoga is. “ – Elizabeth Rainey
With the knowledge and information I have now, I will try my best to describe and define these practices.
How they relate. And how they differ.
It will take some philosophy.
It will take a modern approach.
But I invite you to sit through this.
Grab a cup of tea.
Snuggle up on your couch.
And then make your own interpretation of these beautiful practices that are meant to support us in this human experience.
If you stepped into a yoga class recently you probably did some body movements.
Whether it was fast, slow, or really slow you sat, stood, split, laid, or twisted. Probably some music playing. And maybe the word Namaste was thrown around.
What you may not have ever heard about are the 8 stages or the 8 Limbs of Yoga. This is one of the definitions of the practice of yoga found in the most important foundational book called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
TKV Desikachar, author of The Heart of Yoga says “I think the Yoga Sutra makes yoga more comprehensible than any other text”
What is a yoga practice?
In this context the yoga practice consists of:
1. Our Sense of Integrity 2. Our Personal Observances 3. The Poses 4. Breathwork 5. Inward Observation 6. Concentration 7. Meditation 8. Interconnection
Please read that two or three times!
While this is the order given in the book, the order doesn’t matter. But this is a full yoga practice.
Which one(s) are you practicing in class?
I’m confident you’re practicing number three. I hope number four. Maybe seven.
But without a glimpse into this, I can understand how mainstream yoga has lost touch of this. We are hyper-focused on the poses.
One of the pioneers of modern yoga, Maty Ezraty, who passed away this year unexpectedly (RIP) explains
“We’re looking for leadership in social media personalities, publications like Yoga Journal and conferences which are all about numbers and not necessarily about teaching.”
With this new awareness of what a yoga practice is, go back to that list and see how you can support your yoga practice.
Because “practicing only the physical aspect of yoga is like exercising one arm. And letting the other become weak. We are made of body, breath, mind and more.” (pg. 7, The Heart of Yoga)
I can’t seem to find the publication anymore but I read an article that said something along the lines that meditation is the next wellness rival to yoga. Of course, at this moment all of my “mindful” practices went out the door and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. The irony.
But the reason for my frustration is that if you’re going to write about a subject look into the details of what they actually are! It’s impossible for me to see them as rivals. One is not competing for your attention. Both are supporting your growth.
Even the CDC is portraying this “competition” among them with their November 2018 publication stating,
I see the value in how the CDC portrays this though. As I mentioned above a lack of definition in meditation and mindfulness among healthcare studies has caused confusion. Furthermore, if we don’t make these distinctions we wouldn’t be able to see the increase in usage among these two modalities.
Meditation is a beautifully mysterious practice. That many traditions, lineages, schools of thought, and spiritual circles follow.
Our modern world has categorized meditation as a relaxing technique. To relieve stress. And it totally does do that! But there’s much more depth to this practice.
**As I’m describing this I want you to remember that 8 Stages of a Yoga Practice.
Go back to number 7.
Meditation is on that list!**
Meditation is often used as an umbrella term for practices and traditions that share similar components.
One of those components among the various styles is training your mind to build the power of attention in order to be fully present.
What varies is the technique used to achieve that.
Some traditions or techniques use the breath. Others use a word or sound such a Mantra or Vedic Meditation. Others use movement AND breath such as Kundalini meditations. This is just scraping the surface of examples.
In my words
Meditation is allowing the flow of everything within and around us to happen. The purpose of meditation is to discover what your mind is like, practice moments of attention, and to allow experiences to unfold without identifying with the plethora of thoughts or the content inside your mind. When we become more observant of the content inside our mind, we can change what no longer serves us. We’re often on negative thought-loops that define how we walk around in life, and when we put a pause on that thought-loop through meditation we can allow some restructuring to happen. Therefore, creating a new understanding of yourself and your life. This doesn’t mean that life is magically going to be easy, and beautiful, and perfect. Meditation is a tool to use for our everyday struggles of life.
Here’s a brief definition of Meditation from the Buddhist tradition,
Here’s a brief definition of Yoga from the Yoga Sutras,
“Yoga is the ability to direct the mind without distraction or interruption” (p. 79)
Both speaking of the component of the mind.
Yoga is meditation. And meditation is yoga.
Outside of these definitions of yoga and meditation, I 100% see that there is a distinction between these two in the modern world.
As Maty has so beautifully explained once again,
“We don’t have the kind of leaders in the yoga world that they have in the meditation world. We don’t have all the monks who are teaching incredibly good, solid philosophy. The meditation world has been able to take the philosophy and bring it down to every day life, and I don’t think many of the us in the yoga world have managed to do that with our texts, like Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutra”
And now mindfulness! Take a moment to think, what do you think mindfulness is? Is it meditation? Is it when my mind is full?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is your mind’s ability to be fully present or undistracted. Sounds very similar to some of the definitions of yoga and meditation.
Gosh, this is getting messy.
Mindfulness means you’re present in the now.
Where you are.
What you’re doing.
Not overly or even underly reactive to what’s going on around you.
You can be mindful in your day-to-day activities, at work, with friends, and with your loved ones.
Why are Meditation and Mindfulness interchangeably used?
Meditation and Mindfulness often get confused or used interchangeably as I’ve mentioned.
One reason might be because there’s a style of meditation called Mindfulness Meditation, which some define as the practice of nonjudgment, compassion, and kindness to ourselves and others.
Another reason they may get interchangeably used is that there’s an 8-week program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn created in 1979. The technique was originally developed for use in hospitals with patients suffering from painful, chronic, or disabling conditions, and therefore has been extensively researched in healthcare settings.
In my words
Practicing yoga (body, breath, and mind), practicing a sitting down meditation (training your mind) increase your capacity to be Mindful.
Those two modalities support your day-to-day growth in mindful living.
Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness
So, to my question above. Yes, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all relate.
Sometimes in a way that does not allow us to categorize or compartmentalize each in a very structured way. As a visual learner I sometimes I see these three like this,
Our Modern Yoga and Meditation
Our modern world has adapted the word yoga to mean only the physical poses. And our modern world has adopted meditation to be a relaxation technique.
But know that there’s much more complexity and mystery to them.
These practices are meant to be personal. They are almost meant to be practiced.
There may be a point in your life you need more physical yoga, there may be a point you increase your formal sitting down meditation. There may be a point where you’re reading about them. Or taking a training. Throughout all this you’re witnessing and figuring out how the three interplay in your life.
One thing is for sure, they are meant to be practiced continuously. And with that practice they evolve. Your mind transforms. And you become a conduit of change. For the better.
I invite you today to explore the full range of these practices. They are never competing for your attention and they are not rivals, at least not in my book.