How to Practice Yoga and Meditation to Maximize Both
Both yoga and meditation have numerous physical and mental benefits, so why not combine the two? Maybe you have a devoted yoga practice already or perhaps you meditate daily. Either way, linking the two can deepen your connection to each practice.
Read on for advice on how to best combine yoga and meditation and to learn about the benefits of both.
What are the Differences Between Yoga and Meditation?
Both yoga and meditation are mind-body practices you can adapt to your goals and schedule, but usually people think of the former as more physical and the latter as mostly mental.
Yoga practices tend to use a variety of poses or postures to increase flexibility and strength, and align the body and mind. Yoga can range from gentle (like restorative yoga) to intense (like ashtanga yoga).
Meditation is most often a practice that does not involve movement, but instead has you sitting upright and alert, says Sam Rudra Swartz, a certified meditation teacher and hatha yoga instructor.
Some forms of yoga combine movement and meditation or mindfulness, as do practices like tai chi and qi gong. No matter what you’re looking to gain, you can find a style of yoga or meditation that suits you.
Why Do Yoga and Meditation Together?
Meditation and yoga work together synergistically to mutually benefit each other. “In yoga, meditation is everything,” says Swartz. “The poses prepare the body, the breathing practices help prepare the mind, and then you spend this time alone with your mind where you put effort toward concentrating on exactly just one thing.”
Some types of yoga, including kundalini yoga and some forms of hatha yoga, already include meditation in the practice. “A consistent hatha yoga practice is important in order to be able to sit still in a tall, upright, alert pose that will facilitate this concentration for meditation,” says Swartz.
Yoga also focuses on the breath, through pranayama. With a consistent meditation practice, you are preparing your body and mind for this breath work during yoga poses and building focus and concentration through each flow. Those skills can help you stay put on your meditation pillow.
These practices can help you off the mat or cushion, too.
“We are taught that yoga is all about a calm and focused mind, so that everything you do throughout your day is a meditation,” Swartz says. “Your whole day can be part of your practice.”
Do You Meditate Before or After Yoga?
“There is no steadfast rule as to whether or not you practice one or the other first,” Swartz says. However, traditionally, a yoga practice supports a meditation practice. In the authoritative text, The Yoga Sutras, physical practice (asana) is supposed to be steady and comfortable, to prepare for longer, sitting meditations.
Still, Swartz says it’s OK to be flexible about which one you do first.
Some meditations work best first thing in the morning when life is quiet and the sun is rising. In that case, doing yoga first “won’t disturb your calm vibes after meditation,” he says.
“However, if you’re an early riser and want to align with the deeper traditions of the spiritual practice, meditate as early as possible,” he says, then do a gentle practice.
Later in the day, you might want to flow before you sit.
“If your practice is quite rigorous, you would want to end your physical practice with at least a few minutes of deep relaxation and meditation,” he says.
What are the Main Benefits of Doing Yoga and Meditation?
Yoga and meditation have numerous documented and researched benefits, many of which overlap. Whether you engage in one or the other, your mind and body will thank you for adopting these ancient practices for your modern life.
The benefits of yoga
- Yoga can get you moving while also focusing on your breath and mind. Some styles of yoga focus on increasing flexibility, others aim to increase strength and stamina, while some work to calm your mind and improve your mood.
- Research shows that yoga can help support a healthy weight and promote cardiovascular health, as well as help you cope with stress and anxiety.
- Yoga also helps increase self-esteem and energy, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychology.
The benefits of meditation
- Meditation can boost your well-being and offer other benefits for your mind, like helping elevate mood and ease stress.
- Researchers now know meditation can change your brain structure and thus help keep it healthy. Data from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences suggests that meditation might help preserve both gray and white matter in the brain, which can help slow age-related decreases in both.
Ready to gain all the benefits of meditation and yoga? Start with Yoga52, which has classes and programs for all goals and skill levels. Combine one class a week with meditation, such as the sound meditations created by international sound meditation facilitator Scarlett de la Torre.
Ranging from 10 to 45 minutes, each meditation uses soothing sound frequencies to shift your brain into a more relaxed, meditative state. Try the Sound Meditation program after your next Yoga52 practice.
- Adiponectin, interleukin-6, and cardiovascular disease risk factors are modified by a short-term yoga-based lifestyle intervention in overweight and obese men pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23210469/
- How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of mechanisms of change and guide to future inquiry pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25559560/
- Yoga Poses Increase Subjective Energy and State Self-Esteem in Comparison to 'Power Poses' pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28553249/
- Searching for the philosopher's stone: promising links between meditation and brain preservation nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/nyas.13082