What is the Surprising Difference Between Yoga & Meditation?
Actually there is no difference between yoga and meditation. They are fundamentally one and the same thing. It took me a long time to realise this and for many years, I practised the physical part of my yoga as if I was training for Olympic gold! At the end of the class, like lots of others, I would gratefully flop down into Savasana for a rest, often with twitchy muscles because I had completely over-stimulated my nervous system.
But this was always missing the point since our physical yoga practise should be executed in a way that enhances and creates more energy – call it prana, qi, whatever you want – not in away that makes us feel exhausted and spent. An adrenaline high is no different to a sugar high; it feels good at the time but is more like being on drugs since it usually doesn’t last long. Anyone who has had a baby or taken part in an extreme sporting challenge will confirm this! Chances are, we we soon feel fatigued and drained and find ourselves needing another “hit” (high), which could mean we start to head into SNS (sympathetic nervous system) dominance and are on the way to experiencing all the related chronic health issues.
A proper “prana” high can only happen, if we practise/exercise in a relaxed and non-competitive way that moves blood and information around the body. This is because tension is draining and means we have to work harder to achieve the same result. Our bodies are made up of channels and tunnels. Tension and muscle tightening simply create blockages which impinge the flow of energy. If we are truly practising yoga, savasana is actually a superfluous pose.
When we are in yoga, we are in a meditative state. We could describe it as being in the “zone”. This zone is available not just on our yoga mat or when we sit or lie for “meditation” (which is often sitting or lying and thinking about “stuff” and not meditation at all..!), but when we are skiing down a slope for example and totally in the moment. It’s focussing rather than thinking. Attention rather than tension. We experience “The Zone” once we’ve mastered the waves and feel the urge to surf every day; when we dance as if nobody’s watching, sing as if no one is listening, laugh like there’s no tomorrow and lose all sense of time and self-consciousness. Perhaps it’s the way we innately seem to recognise a true artist or musician; They appear to be lost in their world with no thought for the audience. I think it’s fair to say that “yoga” is what separates an actual artist from someone who simply understands technical details.
The Experience of “Flow”…
The thing that all that stuff also has in common though, is that in order for anything to flow and feel fluid and meditative (including life!) – in order to experience “yoga”, there will always be a bit of hard work and effort involved – especially in the beginning. How can we relax on the ski slopes if we haven’t mastered at least some of the technical details? Ditto playing an instrument and many other modalities. The more we practise and learn, the easier it becomes to relax because our brain will switch to a more automated response mode – just like it does when we drive and our reflexes naturally kick in half a second before we consciously notice the thing our brain is responding to.
And knowing that this will happen; ie, how quickly our natural reflexes respond, why is it that the majority of us are spending our days on high alert mode? Waiting for something to happen? Feeling tense and always on high alert mode? Creating drama and stories; wasting energy, over-thinking and quite possibly destroying the ability of our nervous system to respond naturally to actual danger?
Feeling the Love..
When we do experience this meditative flow, our sense of time changes. Hours may feel like minutes or moments will slow down. Technical details no longer matter since we are at one with whatever it is we are doing and the sensation of being is experienced deep within our consciousness – not just on a gross physical or emotional plane.
The challenge that we all have though – and this is one thing practise on the mat is really good for – is in digging a little deeper now and then in order to experience that sense of yoga when we are really NOT feeling the love. When other stuff is going on – whether it’s physical, emotional or something else. When we don’t feel like being there or are offered a pose we find hard or just don’t like. Can we do it anyway? Can we back off enough in certain poses to find a way of practising that is safe and comfortable for us? When we are tired, can we turn up anyway and resolve to just do our best? If the practise feels intense can we simply be with it, slow our breathing, relax and be in that space without buying into ego or labelling sensations or feelings as good or bad?
Now that’s a proper yoga challenge.