In this technological age, it may seem strange that ancient practices like yoga and meditation are gaining traction and a loyal following across the globe. Professionals, hipsters and fitness freaks alike are emphatically extolling the variety of mental and physical benefits associated with these two ancient practices.
And why shouldn’t they? The physical practice of yoga postures, or Asanas, and meditation are very effective means of improving physical and mental balance and promoting a host of other healthy perks that make life more enjoyable. Nevertheless, all the hype can cause some confusion about how these two separate, yet crucially interconnected, concepts relate to each other.
The Vedic Tradition From Which Yoga and Meditation Were Born
According to the Vedic tradition, the tenets of meditation and yoga are found in their humble beginnings before the formation of the universe. Vedic traditions says light and knowledge were born from the single word “Aum” and this sacred knowledge was collected and recorded in the Vedas, about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. These sacred texts are the foundations for Brahmanism, Hinduism and the many religions that would come.
In this collection of hymns and deeper precepts, there are 4 sub-Vedas or Upa-Vedas. These formed the basis of a scientific approach to life and the reality we all share:1
- Ayur Veda – science of medicine.
- Artha Veda – science of sociology and economics
- Dhanur Veda – science of defense and war
- Gandharva Veda – science of music, both singing and instrumental
After these come the “Limbs of Veda”. Named after body parts, these “Vedangas” provide support and perspective on the Vedas and Upavedas.
- Vyakaran (mouth) – concerning grammar
- Jyotish (eyes) – astronomy and astrology
- Nirukt (ears) – the dictionary or Vedic teachings
- Shikcha (nose) – concerning the life breath
- Chandas (feet) – concerning metric compositions
- Kalpa (hands) – concerning actions
Beneath the 6 Limbs of Vedas, are six sub-components or astika schools of philosophy and one of these is the school of Yoga. While most yogis will delve into a deeper inquest of each of these schools, it suffices to just have basic knowledge on what they are and what they provide your understanding of yoga.
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This will also allow for a more enlightened approach to the study of yoga and how pervasive its applications can be in all aspects of life. A better knowledge of the ancient teachings can also make a more discerning yogi keep their practice on a productive course.2
- Sankhya – the framework for manifestation.
- Vedanta – contemplative self-inquiry that leads to realization of true nature.
- Vaisheshika – the sciences of the physical realm chemistry and alchemy, includes teachings on time, the soul and the mind.
- Nyaya – studies of logic and reasoning; emphasizes the importance of doubt in philosophical pursuits.
- Mimasa – freedom through actions such as rituals, ethical conduct, and worship.
The 3rd Astika School: Yoga for Practical Experience
The third school of Hindu philosophy is yoga and deals with all the practical ways to connect with the eternal in a state of cultivated consciousness. As described in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, yoga is the dedicated practice of bringing the awareness inward as a means of finally moving beyond action and reaching higher states of consciousness. The entire practice of Yoga has been called Sankha-Yoga as it represents the practical ways to experience the truths found in the Sankha School of Philosophy.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
According to the teacher Patanjali, liberation of the mind can be achieved through practicing the 8 Limbs of Yoga.3 The Sanskrit word for yoga is fascinating because at first glance it is paradoxical. “Yoga” is most commonly understood as “yoke” or “to connect”. This illustrates how the effort and practice of the 8 Limbs connects the mind, body, and soul and creates the optimal conditions for experiencing truth, the divine essence or “ultimate self” called the “atman.”
However, another opposite meaning for the Sanskrit term “yoga” is to “disengage” or “disentangle”. This can be understood as the disconnection to goals, rewards, past problems, future fears, negativity or anything that may stand in the way of experiencing this increased awareness. When performing any of the 8-limbs of yoga, the awareness of the moment allows all other distractions and obstacles to fade away, allowing the sublime to be better experienced.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga are:
- Yama – observance of universal morality through vows, discipline, and restraint
- Niyama – Personal observances and positive duties
- Asana – Postures
- Pranayama – cultivation of prana through refined breathing
- Pratyahara – withdrawal from the senses
- Dharanara – concentration, that leads to meditation practice
- Dhyana – practice of meditation and absorption
- Samadhi – a state of bliss where the soul can be observed and enlightenment glimpsed
Asanas and Meditation: The 3rd and 7th Limbs of Yoga
As you can see in this overview, yoga asanas and meditation are small parts in the much greater subject of the yoga tradition. Yoga, which includes the physical disciplines of asanas and the mental exercises of dhyana (meditation), refers to a variety of practices designed to facilitate heightened awareness.
The term “yoga” itself is a bit clouded, due to the great emphasis pop culture has placed on the beneficial asana, the third limb of yoga. The physical performance of posture and physical form is an important part of the path to freeing the mind and increasing the capacity to experience the ultimate self.
However, this should not be equated with the capacity to perform the variety of highly advanced and physically demanding asanas seen through the yoga practice. In truth, the asanas themselves were designed to improve one’s capacity to meditate just as the meditative practice also improves one’s capacity to improve self-awareness and better execute the physical asanas. “Asana” means “seat” – more specifically the seated positions where meditation can be practiced.
A good rule of thumb is provided by Patanjali, who states the proper alignment for any asana must be comfortable and steady. This perfectly mirrors the state of the mind in meditation and shows how the practice of yoga asanas contributes to the union of mind and body.
Meditative absorption could be considered a goal of practicing yoga asanas. Whether you are in a big box yoga center or private studio you will be constantly reminded to increase awareness of motion and form and especially breathing. All of this is done to improve meditative absorption, the 7th limb of yoga.
Just as yoga keeps the body limber and balanced, the practice of meditation provides the mind with an important exercise that improves resilience and emotional fortitude. Furthermore, the cognitive benefits of a minded-maintained through meditation include reduced likelihood of degenerative conditions.4
Yoga as an exercise and plan for physical health and well-being will invariably include many aspects of meditation and mindfulness, and the reverse is also true. As part of a much larger plan for physical, mental and spiritual health, the very best results come from balanced progress on all fronts and this comes through dedicated practice.
As the practice of meditation improves, the capacity to cultivate the breath and take physical efforts in yoga practice to new levels will be facilitated. It won’t be long till the benefits become more evident in other areas of life as well. The practice of asanas leads to better balance and postures when sitting at a desk or engaging in highly active sports.
In the same way, the practice of meditation allows the mind to maintain integrity and optimal function even when engaging in highly strenuous mental activities and emotional balance.
In all, yoga and meditation are separate parts of the same healthy lifestyle. They can go hand-in-hand to increase one’s emotional, physical and mental well-being, and this is the best use for them all.
Many find that aromatherapy pairs very well with practicing yoga, meditation or both. MONQ’s Zen blend was designed to encourage feelings of peace and serenity, just like these practices, and it’s a good bet that it can help you in your peaceful exercises too!
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