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Yoga and meditation are highly compatible, but are not always practiced simultaneously.
It is completely possible to have a yoga practice and not meditate, and to have a meditation practice that does not include yoga.
There are many different styles and approaches, but yoga can definitely help your meditation (and vice versa) in a synergistic fashion. Here are six reasons why yoga benefits your meditation practice:
1. Increases Health
Yoga postures, or “asana”, were included in some yogic schools as a way to strengthen the body and prepare it for the vigor of spiritual practice.
A strong body allowed the yogi to sit for extended periods of time in seated meditation. The poses have a multitude of health benefits that increase stamina and overall wellness, and accelerates flexibility and muscle tone.
Multiple studies have shown that regular practice increases circulation, improves quality of sleep, boosts immunity, and reduces depression and anxiety, among others. Yoga can also be used as therapy in which specific poses are applied to treat specific ailments.
2. Reduces Stress
Again and again, studies say that yoga practice reduces stress levels.
This is linked to the physical exercise, mental focus and deliberate ways in which the poses stretch and open up the body.
When we are under stress, it is harder to make wise decisions and we are much more reactive in nature. Our minds become whirlwinds and clearing them is not easy.
Training the mind requires determination, and reducing the mental agitation can only expedite our progress. It is said meditation is possible when we cultivate both focus and relaxation. Using yoga helps increase both.
The support of community is also beneficial when practiced in a group setting.
3. Increases Awareness
When we practice yoga, we become aware of so many things.
We discover muscles in our body we did not know existed and become conscious of how our physical selves move and function, as well as becoming conscious of the mind-body connection. With time, things that were hidden to us become obvious and routine.
We also become aware of attitudes and expectations while learning the poses. Perhaps we compare ourselves to other students or are impatient or judgmental when we are struggling to master a pose.
People are frequently introduced to stilling the mind and become aware of the breath in yoga class which is a wonderful entry point for meditation, which is all about cultivating awareness.
4. Helps with Focus
Learning the poses requires focus, attention, and coordination.
Working with the breath and synchronizing body and breath asks even more of us. Serious students will continue to perfect small details and learn more and more.
All of these things require us to turn away from the fluctuating states of the mind and put our attention fully into the task at hand. This is something people rarely do and do not always know how to achieve.
The poses can serve as an excellent vehicle for cultivating focus with movement that can easily be applied to a seated or standing meditation.
5. Can Be Combined With Other Tools
Westerners typically think asana is yoga. In fact, yoga is a complex system of methods designed to unify the body, mind, and spirit, and asana is a tiny piece of the puzzle.
Asana falls under the Tantric school of yoga in which physical existence and the body are used as tools for spiritual expansion. The wonderful thing is how many other practices exist under this heading that can be utilized together in a meditation practice.
Certain techniques combine yoga poses with other methods (often much more powerful) like breathing exercise, chanting, mudras, and sitting meditation for a more potent affect.
In this way, yoga fits seamlessly within the discipline.
6. Makes the Abstract More Concrete
Esoteric explanations about the nature of the universe can be hard to understand.
They seem vague and intangible, and their subtle nature can lead to confusion. Teachers understand students must personally experience what they are teaching in order for them to move past a theoretical grasp to something useful that can be applied.
Yoga utilizes the physical body, something that is concrete and “real”. Working with our flesh and bone can make abstract concepts make sense as we experience them in our physical selves.
As we begin to become aware of energy within our bodies, it becomes easier to enter less defined realms and take the mental leap necessary to embrace larger concepts.
If you have a yoga practice, try adding in a few minutes of meditation, and if you have a regular meditation routine, start adding some stretches and poses to loosen and limber you up.
You may be surprised at how small, simple changes make a big difference