A lot of people aren’t really clear on the differences between meditation and yoga. We often hear people say “I’m meditating” or “I’m doing yoga.” Sometimes they are intending to suggest the same thing while other times they may be talking about drastically different things.
First, we must understand the two words and where they come from. I’ll start with the word Yoga. Yoga is an ancient Sanskrit word, which basically means “union.” This union means the connection between soul (the individual) and Spirit (God or universe). Yoga is not only the word to describe this state of union but is also the means to attain this state of union.
Patanjali, an ancient sage, is credited with formulating what is known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Without getting into too much detail they are as follows: 1. Yama (Do’s) 2. Niyama (Don’ts) 3. Asanas (Positions) 4. Pranayama (Control of breath or Life Force) 5. Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal) 6. Dharana (Concentration) 7. Dhyana (Meditation) and 8. Samadhi (Spiritual Ecstasy).
These are the basics steps of yoga (union) to attain the state of yoga (union). In the true st sense of the word a yogi is one who has permanently attained this lofty state of spiritual union although it can also be true that a yogi is merely one who practices yoga. Some choose to be technical and call these individuals “yogi aspirants.”
Now meditation comes from the word “Dhyana” (the 7th limb of yoga) and is essentially a state of awareness or consciousness. This, in the beginning, is a spiritual state where the practicing yogi has successfully turned his or her attention inward, shutting off the senses and outer distractions and transcends the restless mind. What’s important to note is that meditation is not a verb or an act. It is technically a misnomer to say that you are “meditating.” One cannot truly meditate; they can only do certain things and practice to bring about the state of meditation or dhyana.
The key ingredients to bring about the state of meditation (dhyana) and, ultimately, yoga (union) focuses on a relaxed body, calm mind, proper breathing and control of prana or life force. The practices of yoga are truly designed to help one learn to control this life force. Prana is known as the subtle intelligent energy that sustains all of creation and is most correlated to the breath in man. In fact, it is stated that one cannot willfully achieve meditation (dhyana) or yoga (union) until he or she learns to control this life force. People may sometimes unwillfully achieve a state of meditation or yoga but these are normally believed to be through the grace of God or deep sincere devotion. Yet even these experiences are beyond one’s control.
Through steady practice, discipline, devotion, non-attachment and various spiritual ideals it is said that one may ultimately learn to enter the state of Samadhi willfully. When one is able to accomplish this they became known as enlightened. There are actually a couple different types of samadhi as well. One is Salvikalpa Samadhi which means “with difference” in that one finds spiritual union to the exclusion of the outside world. The other is known as Nirvakalpa Samadhi meaning “without difference” so that one can stay in this highest state of spiritual ecstasy and still interact with the world. When one is able to permanently fix this state of awareness they become known as a Kaivalyam or one who is liberated!