Yoga, pranayama and meditation are becoming more and more popular for people who want to reduce stress and obtain better health. In those 3 concepts, yoga seems to be the most well-known practice.
Some people even think the three concepts are actually the same things, because they all can help with physical and mental health. However, they are totally different, not only in words but also in practice.
To understand more clearly about the difference between them, perhaps we should look through the ancient scriptures ‘Yogsutra’ by Patanjali.
The author has separated yoga, pranayama and meditation into 3 distinct fields: physical fitness, mental health, and spiritual awareness.
In practice, yoga includes many versions, but it is often thought wrongly as a form of “exercise” only. Meditation (Dhyana) is actually a limb of yoga; and pranayama, though it is less known than the rest two concepts, should be practiced along with those two for comprehensive mental and physical benefits.
Yoga was originated from India. In Sanskrit, it means ‘to join’ or ‘to add’. The term is generally a combination between physical, mental and spiritual practices aimed at achieving permanent peace in your mind.
Yoga includes 8 limbs or types of practice:
- Yama (truth and nonviolence)
- Niyam (five healthy habits)
- Asana (more famous as an exercise)
- Pranayama (breathing exercise)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal)
- Dharana (Concentration on objects)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (merging consciousness with the object of meditation)
Looking at the above list, we can see that yoga is not only about Asana (exercise), it actually has more meanings than that. It includes yogic exercises focusing on the entire human body: internal, external and mental stability.
- Reading more: Different types of Yoga and their benefits
By practicing all 8 forms, you will be able to attain physical, mental and spiritual fulfillment. The subdivisions are created with a central basic philosophy: to create a direct connection with the Creator of this universe.
That will ultimately bring about self-satisfaction and open the doors for practitioners to access real joy. When you get to the advanced level, you will not only have extremely good health but also a peace of mind.
‘Pran’ means ‘breath’ or ‘life force’ and ‘ayama’ means ‘control’. So, pranayama is called “the yoga of breathing”.
This comprises of many breathing exercises, focusing on every inhalation and exhalation. It helps to balance and harmonize the body with the mind.
Generally, pranayama is practiced by sitting in padmasana pose and focusing on slow, steady breathing. Another type of pranayama is concentrating on rapid inhalation and exhalation or “kapalbhati”.
Sitting in padmasana pose
You can watch the following video on Youtube for a detail instruction to Pranayama:
Or here is the instruction to do Kapalbhati as mentioned above:
Pranayama is believed to be the most perfect and efficient way to keep your mind under control. You will get internal stability and be able to concentrate on your goals.
Medical experts also recommended pranayama as a good break from asana. Doing exercises regularly is good, but we shouldn’t do it too much.
Pranayama can sometimes be a break for everyone to feel more peace and balance.
When practicing with these exercises, you will learn how to control your breathing system and direct it as you want. Try to do it every day and you’ll become a master of breathing skill.
Looking at the list of 8 limbs of yoga, we can see that meditation comes after pranayama. Pranayama and Asana are called “outer layer” of practice, while Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi are considered as “internal layer”.
After doing meditation for a long enough time, meditators will become master in controlling their mind. The power of concentration and focusing ability will also be sharper.
Actually, meditation (or Dhyana) is the first step of “clearing consciousness”. Many people may think that it is all about sitting in a certain place silently in a particular posture,
in fact, it is a far more profound technique of moving your mind and soul to the next level of human consciousness. A religious meditator always tries to live in the moment and analyze all the events happening within or outside his or her body.
In general, all three types of practice (yoga, pranayama, meditation) can help to create positive changes in our body and our mind.
The main difference is only in the way they affect our life. Yoga actually includes more than just one form of exercise, but most people only practice with Asana, so it mainly focuses on changing your physical fitness.
On the other hand, pranayama concentrates on affecting your mental health, and meditation is mostly about spiritual awareness.
If possible, and if having enough time, you had better practice all the three types, and other limbs of yoga as well.
Below are their incredible benefits if exercised regularly:
- Improve flexibility
- Increase blood flow
- Boost immunity, eliminate infections
- Lower sugar levels in your blood
- Improve concentration
- Bring about a peaceful mind
- Create energy for working
- Make your soul more creative
- Detoxify the body
- Protect from injuries
Apart from the above benefits, there are hundreds of other good effects that all forms of yoga can bring about to your physical and emotional health.
If you don’t have enough time or conditions to follow all the limbs, you can choose one to learn.
But before making a decision, don’t forget to ask for some advice from experts or practitioners who have exercised for a long period of time. You will surely achieve your life goals if doing them in the correct way.