The Absurdity of Yoga Without Meditation
Having almost 40 years of yoga practice under my belt, combined with living in India for a good 1-year stint, I can say with certainty that yoga is a meditation practice. Yet so many people ask, "Can you practice yoga without meditation?" "What is the difference between yoga and meditation?" And the answer might surprise you.
There is no difference between yoga and meditation! Yoga is a form of meditation. It is true there are many types of meditation and movement meditation is one for sure. However, if the movement does not address the mental state, then it is not yoga. Yoga without meditation simply is not movement meditation. An exercise may have movements derived from the yoga tradition, but the movements by themselves are not yoga. It’s pretty obvious we are not going to heal relationships and solve problems with a triangle pose, but healing is a valid outcome of developing benevolent mental qualities. This development is a by-product of mental exercise that occurs with yoga.
Silence, gratitude, compassion, humility, gentleness, calmness, forgiveness, and acceptance-- these benevolent qualities are "muscles" in the sense of if you use them, they develop If you don’t, they atrophy. When one asks, "Which is better, meditation or yoga?" I say they are one and the same. But if you are practicing the movements without meditative qualities, then meditation would be much more effective towards wellness, whereas the yoga movements could actually be harmful without awareness.
Awareness and mindfulness are basic qualities of meditation. It is the quality necessary for healing action. In other words, these yoga poses will not be healing if you are not honoring what you are feeling which is why we have feelings, to guide us. Tuning into our experience of being present allows us to notice our malevolent tendencies.
Exercise and/or maintenance is necessary for well-being. If the exercises are performed with expectations, criticisms, judgments, competitiveness, reactiveness, distractedness, etc. then you are actually strengthening or reinforcing malevolent or stress-inducing qualities. Our minds believe what they see most often and considering our society has plenty of room for improvement, we have seen over and over again many unhealthy societal, as well as familial tendencies (mind states) which we have unwittingly adopted. We then bring those mental states which we have adopted everywhere with us including the yoga exercises which then pollute the experience. Mindfulness helps us become aware when we are indulging in these unhealthy mental states, so we have a choice as to whether we want to continue to indulge in these qualities or not. If we choose to not indulge, these qualities start to weaken and die as we are no longer feeding them mental energy and unconscious loyalty which is their food. Yet without meditative qualities like mindfulness, these mental tendencies go unnoticed and we suffer their consequences. Most all yoga poses are called asanas, which is a Sanskrit word translated into English means “to sit quietly” or “to sit still”. Basically, we are being told in every pose that this is meditation. Without mindfulness these are not asanas, they are simply calisthenics from India.
So, yoga and meditation are really the same, and yoga vs meditation makes no sense and the benefits of yoga and meditation are the same unless your yoga practice includes movements as then you also get a sweet physical maintenance program.
Many physical yoga classes do not emphasize mindfulness they just focus on the poses; therefore, a lot of sick tendencies go unnoticed, yet if the goal is wellness that’s absurd.
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