There seems to be a lot of confusion when discussing yoga and meditation. With people interchanging one with the other, one cannot be sure if a person is doing yoga or is meditating. Although there is a connection between yoga and meditation, it does not mean that they are one and the same. Meditation is a part of yoga, but one can also meditate without doing yoga. Thus, it is important to understand what makes up yoga and what makes up meditation to avoid misinformation especially if you are practicing and advocating it.
Yoga in Sanskrit means “to yoke or bind” or “union”. In practice, it is the connection of the individual’s soul to the Divine. The teachings of yoga reinforce not only the union itself but also on how to attain such. The sage Patanjali outlined the eight-fold path of yoga which include yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. By following these steps, one can attain the highest stage of spiritual union.
Meanwhile, meditation refers to the practice of being in a state of conscious awareness. This can be achieved when you turn your attention towards yourself and dismissing external distraction and other thoughts that are not in the present moment. Meditation requires a strong level of discipline in concentration, wherein you disengage yourself from events, emotions and ideas that currently do not exist in your practice.
Meditation is one of the eight limbs of yoga, defined under dharana. In order to achieve the union, you need to meditate and focus on a relaxed body, mind and breathing to control the life force or prana. Prana is the energy among all creations which is believed to be accessed through breathing. According to the writings of Patanjali, for a person to achieve the state of meditation and of union, one must learn how to control prana first.
In yoga, the connection to meditation can already start in the physical sense, when you are performing the asana or the poses. On the first level, asana means the practice of body postures. When you delve into it deeper, the poses are not physical implementations alone. Rather, you start to utilize the poses as a way to calm your mind and access your inner being. Doing the poses can be challenging, and thus you need to concentrate in order to control your emotions, your body, and your thoughts to create a connection between the physical and the ethereal. The poses incorporate the body as the agent in moving from the physical and the material towards the spiritual.
With the kind of concentration that asana requires, it is considered as a preparation for meditation. While it is true that the poses are physical, in this case, the body is the tool to create consciousness that reaches out into every aspect of your being. Awareness and mindfulness are fostered with the help of the pranayama, which is the fourth limb of yoga. Combining poses and breathing techniques promotes the harmonization of energy which makes your body the perfect environment conducive for a spiritual experience.
In pratyahara, you are taught to withdraw from the senses by removing your attachment from the external sources. For you to achieve the union, you need to reach the state of restraint where external forces no longer provide a source of distraction and temptation. Majority of how you react to certain things are according to your own accord. When you allow external sources to influence your emotions and your feelings, it is difficult to achieve serenity.
Meditation automates pratyahara since your focus is towards the object that you are concentrating on. As the mind is fixed on the object, it is expected that the senses will follow suit. When you meditate, your senses become the master of you rather than the other way around. It is not entirely shutting down your senses, but rather, automating their functions properly. This means that the senses will work according to what they are naturally designed, rather than functioning based on what you think they should do.
True meditation is achieved when you start to focus your attention on one object instead of thinking several different thoughts. Once you reach this, you are at the stage of dharana. Here, your contemplation and reflection deepen since you have already created an environment conducive for these activities. The more your concentration is focused on one direction, meditation becomes more intense and other events or thoughts are dismissed. When your mind has been purified and your focus is fixed on a stable entity, you increase the potential of receiving inner healing.
Worship of the Divine comes as the seventh limb of yoga. Here, the meditation has deepened and you are not only concentrating for the sole purpose of creating focus but rather, to investigate the truth behind it. The idea of dhyana is that when your mind is concentrated on the object, the mind transforms into it. So in yoga, when you start to meditate on the Divine, your intention is to see its truest nature.
At this stage, your consciousness is able to create distinctions between the levels of perception towards the object of focus. You start to identify your mind, your method as well as the object. You also begin to differentiate the meanings and the ideas into deeper forms. You become more aware of the reality that the only real thing in this world is the Divine. You also start to realize that everything else is only an illusion created in the world. As you reach this stage of abstract religious meditation, your thoughts become clearer, bringing you to the state of liberation known as Moksha.
Meditation is the agent that you will use to clear your mind and know the reality behind the veil of illusions. Yoga is practiced through the poses, breathing techniques, withdrawal of the senses and all the other eight limbs of it. More than the physical sense, these limbs become your tools to gain the ultimate reality and you are guided in this journey with the help of meditation.