Updated: Jan 17, 2022
What are the differences between yoga and mindfulness? And how can they work together in synergy?
In this blog, I’ll be exploring how physical yoga and mindfulness meditation complement each other, as well as some tips on how you can practice them.
What’s the Definition of Yoga?
Vinyasa yoga means linking movement with your breath. Read more about what is vinyasa yoga. In essence in yoga you want to focus your mind on both your body and breath, as you move dynamically through the different yoga poses.
The physical part of a yoga practice (asana) focuses on moving your body into a series of postures. These movements are done at the same time as focusing your attention on your breath and body.
Since yoga gained popularity in the west, the physical part of a yoga practice has become what most people mean when they refer to yoga.
However, if you go back to the historical roots of yoga in India, the word yoga means much more than physical yoga postures.
The eight limbs of yoga described by Pantanjali is one of the most widely referenced ancient texts in the yoga community. In this book physical yoga (asana) is described as just one of the eight limbs or parts of a full yoga practice.
The full eight parts of yoga are defined by Pantanjali as:
Lifestyle choices of how you act towards others (yamas)
Lifestyle choices of how you act towards yourself (niyamas)
Physical yoga practice (asana)
Breathing techniques (pranayama)
Practices to withdraw your senses (pratyahara)
Building concentration (dharana)
Deep sense of integration, or enlightenment (samadhi)
These are described in more detail in the 8 limbs of yoga by Pantanjali.
The idea is that these different eight parts of a yoga practice support each other. And by practicing one part—like asana—it will in turn help you develop your ability and understanding of pranayama, building concentration and meditation.
What’s Mindfulness Meditation?
There are a variety of different mindfulness practices that you can do—from seated meditation or a lying body scan, to a mindful walking or yoga practice. All of these techniques are focused on the same goal—to intentionally pay attention in the present moment.
Depending on the specific type of meditation you’re doing you will choose different focal points—like for example the breath or body sensations—to observe how your body, breath, thoughts, feelings and emotions are in the moment.
The most traditional and widely spread mindfulness meditation practices are based on sitting for long periods in stillness. When you sit quietly there are less distractions than if you’re moving in a physical yoga practice. This often means the mind can feel more busy. But can also give you more direct awareness to your inner thoughts and feelings.
In the mindfulness practices developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, there is a large focus on mindful yoga based movement practices as well as seated meditation.
These mindful movement practices focus on exploring a variety of yoga postures in a mindful way. Focusing—as best as you can—on your body, breath and mind as you move through your yoga practice.
How Yoga and Mindfulness Can Support Each Other
After exploring in a bit more depth yoga and mindfulness you probably already see ways that they are supportive and strengthen each other.
The dynamic movements in yoga help you train your awareness of your body, breath and mind—important ingredients for mindfulness. While the stillness and awareness of meditation help you tune into the more subtle elements of breath and body sensations during your yoga practice.
Your physical yoga practice will help build the flexibility, strength and balance you need to be able to sit comfortably for longer periods of time. An important skill for mindfulness meditation.
At the same time, mindfulness meditation will make you more aware of your inner dialogue, thought patterns and natural tendencies that show up in your yoga practice. An important element to bring attitudes of non-striving and acceptance into your yoga.
Practice Tips for Combining Yoga and Mindfulness
My biggest tip on combining yoga and mindfulness practices is to not wait too long practicing one before you add in the other!
In a typical vinyasa practice we do include a short breath meditation practice at the start, and a longer relaxation lying on your back (Savasana) at the end of practice. These are two key moments in your physical yoga practice where you can bring in elements of mindfulness to cultivate concentration and meditation.
While often before doing a seated mindfulness meditation practice you might do a few yoga postures to help open your body and connect with your breath.
So knowing yoga and mindfulness practices are beneficial doesn’t necessarily make it easy to practice. After all there's only so much time available in a day. And we don’t all have the luxury to do a long yoga and mindfulness along with everything else we’ve got to do.
I've found—particularly on busy days— that it’s helpful to combine my yoga and mindfulness practice. So instead of practicing 60 mins of yoga, doing around 40 mins yoga and 20 mins mindfulness. Or instead of 20 mins mindfulness, doing 10 mins of mindfulness and 10 mins of yoga.
The exact amount of time you have available, and want to split between the two are up to you. But if you can do a bit of both you’ll find they both will help each other.
Guided Yoga and Mindfulness Practice
This practice will allow you to balance your body, breath and mind. Bringing individual focus to yoga and mindfulness, and combining them for a holistic practice.
The mindfulness meditation practices are based on those included in the mindfulness based stress reduction course by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While the vinyasa yoga practice is based on both traditional and contemporary vinyasa practices, within the Krishnamacharya lineage.
This practice is suitable for all levels, no matter if you’re newer to yoga or have been practicing for some time.
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