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Yoga and Meditation: What is the Difference?

yoga and meditation: what's the difference

 

Yoga and meditation; meditation and yoga. Of all the holistic activities in the zeitgeist, there are none that are mentioned together more frequently than yoga and meditation. Indeed, they’re combined so frequently that they’ve come to seem, at first glance, like the cheese and crackers of the contemporary wellness diaspora – a natural pairing. Both are feel-good pursuits that – let’s paint with the broadest possible brush strokes possible at this stage of discussing them, and their relationship to one another – have something to do with syncing the energies of the body and mind. 

However, the constant pairing of the words “yoga and meditation” can be misleading. They can be synergistic concepts, and indeed can be practiced simultaneously. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that, as individual terms, both “yoga” and “meditation” contain almost infinite multitudes of different techniques, lineages, and ways of thinking. These myriad meanings are accrued across millennia and cultures. To make matters even more intricate, most recently, these words have, separately and together, undergone a process of fathomless diversification in the Age of Social Media. 

Defining these terms in a way that means something to you will empower you to engage with them on your own terms. This space voyage through the cloudy cosmos of “yoga and meditation” will introduce each of the two concepts, in its most basic format, paving the cosmic highway for you to explore their relationship, as well as deciding to take up yoga – or meditation – independently from one another. 

 

Yoga and meditation: define your terms, or save your prana

 

Mentioning yoga and/or meditation without specifying types and contexts is the height of mindlessness; they are such broad terms that they have ceased to be semantic signifiers. In short, without more details being provided, both terms are obscured by an ever expanding nebula of possible identities, meaning that it’s totally okay – indeed, to be expected – if you’ve heard them together, or separately, and haven’t the foggiest idea what the actual practices entail. 

Depending on who’s using the words “yoga and meditation,” they might be purposed on conjuring up conceptions of Buddhist monks or trendy Silicon Valley tycoons – with the listener independently conceiving of something else entirely, like yummy mummies in yoga pants. It doesn’t help that the clan of concepts contains relative misnomers like “kundalini yoga,” which, with its heavy focus on meditation and the chanting of mantras is, essentially, a physically intensive meditation practice. 

The right pairing of yoga and meditation could be like cheese and crackers, but these two words connote so many different modes of practice that an alternative combo could just as easily be like chalk and cheese. Let’s start by stripping away the sociocultural layers, to reveal the base definitions of both yoga and meditation – turning them back into words you can work wonders with.

 

Yoga: a way of living

 

In its purest essence, yoga is a way of life. It is one of many possible approaches to healthy living, but it encompasses more than just physical health. Traditional yoga, or Ashtanga yoga has eight branches, also known as limbs or steps, which together, target aspects of your being in a totalistic sense. As well as your physical health, yoga, in the true sense of the word, curates your overall mental wellbeing, moral fibre and deep inner world. 

Eight limbs sounds like a lot, but there’s no need to get them in a twist. The eight steps, or elements, of a life yogically lived are as follows: 

 

  • Yamas – your codes of self-conduct; how you see and move through the world, including making commitments to truthfulness and nonviolence
  • Niyamas – your practices of self-discipline; for example, maintaining your studies and cleanliness
  • Asanas – the postures you practice regularly to attain strength, stamina and boost your overall physical health 
  • Pranayama – the art of learning to control your breath, the life-force which sustains you
  • Pratyahara – focussing your senses inward, to develop your inner self
  • Dharna – learning to concentrate deeply
  • Dhyana – in order to meditate effectively, in order to achieve
  • Samadhi – the sensation of transcendence; the ultimate goal of yogic meditation

 

Many people have a misconception that the term yoga refers solely to the asanas which they might encounter in a class at the gym, perhaps with a smidgeon of pranayama practice thrown in, for “authenticity,” if there’s a particularly well-travelled teacher. 

The fact that people practice the asanas without being aware that they are just one of the eight interconnected wellbeing techniques that make up yoga as a whole is not necessarily problematic. In our contemporary society, people experience all kinds of positive effects from doing what they think of as “yoga.” These include, but are not limited to, improved self-esteem, alertness, posture, digestion, and strength. 

One of the many (octo)plusses to be gained from looking at the asanas as part of the eight-limbed entity that is yoga as a whole, however, is the sense of connection between yoga and meditation becomes apparent. 

 

The Savasana: where yoga and meditation meet

 

Although it is eminently possible to practice the asanas and reap some benefits, without also necessarily allocating time for meditation, one reason that they are often paired together is that they can be synergistic. Moving through a sequence of yogic poses, particularly if you incorporate pranayama breathing techniques into your practice, can help relax both the body and the mind, serving as excellent preparation for meditation. 

Most sequences of asanas end, traditionally, with the Savasana, or “corpse pose,” a position in which you lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides and your palms facing upwards. In this position, you can concentrate on feeling the full force of the vibrations which you have encouraged into your body by the means of your yoga practice. 

This is considered to be an optimal point from which to begin meditation, with many people opting for an “extended Savasana” and spending ten to fifteen minutes in this pose in order to enjoy its meditative benefits. If you’re already practicing yoga poses, and are considering taking up meditation too, the Savasana could be an excellent place to start.

 

Meditation: a way of thinking

 

Meditation is part of the yogic way of life, but it’s also something you can practice in its own right. So, if even hearing the term “downward dog” makes you feel like you’ve had a full body workout you never asked for, there’s no need to look away. In its most basic form, meditation is a means of interacting with your mind. There are many different techniques which constitute meditation, and which vary in complexity, and in the extent to which they coalesce with particular physical yoga practices. 

If you’re not yogically inclined, but you do like the sound of some of the benefits of meditaiton – which include reduced anxiety and increased awareness, improved creativity, boosted mood and inner peace, to name a few – you might wish to explore one of the forms of meditation which is entirely effective in its own right, such as mantra-based meditiaton. 

An entirely self-contained process which contains the formula for a more fulfilled self, mantra-based meditation can be practiced any time, anywhere: all you need is your mind and your mantra. In Beeja meditaiton, which is based on the oldest form of meditation in the world, your mantra is specially chosen for you from among thousands by dedicated meditation teachers, ensuring that, when you come to your practice, you are in full posession of the one and only tool you need to succeed. 

If you would like to explore Beeja meditation, whether this is your first encounter with yoga and meditaiton, or whether you’re considering adding this technique to your existing yoga practice, you can visit us in London, or book a course.

Words by Rosalind Stone

This entry was posted in blog.

Staying Positive While Trying to Get Pregnant: Meditation for IVF

meditation for ivf

 

For many of us, there comes a time where suddenly all our friends are starting families, and our social media feeds become a deluge of happy announcements and chubby-faced cherubs. But when we decide to take the plunge ourselves, falling pregnant doesn’t always happen as easily as we might have imagined – and if you are facing fertility issues, you are far from alone. 

Around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving, with around 16% of couples not falling pregnant after a year of trying. This can feel hugely unsettling – while some of us may have been aware of long-standing fertility issues, for others it’s entirely unexpected. With the majority of people taking extensive measures not to have children for much of their early adulthood, being suddenly faced with a struggle to conceive can be extremely disruptive to our peace of mind. 

For those who have tried to conceive naturally for over a year, (or a shorter amount of time, if they are older) fertility treatments up to and including IVF are often recommended – taking couples of a journey of hormone treatments, hospital appointments, blossoming hopes and lingering anxieties. In amongst this upheaval, using a practice such as meditation can provide an anchor – helping us to find a point of emotional stability at a time when we need it most. 

 

IVF and stress

 

Laura Click, who wrote extensively about her experiences with IVF for Medium, said that this process was “one of the most grueling and gut-wrenching experiences I’ve even been through in my life. And, I’ve ran marathons, started a business and supported my husband through cancer”. While this isn’t necessarily going to be everyone’s experience, it’s likely to ring true for many people who are undergoing IVF – especially if they’ve waited a long time and tried other methods before arriving at this point. 

One of the common challenges people face through the IVF process is loneliness and social isolation. There are still widespread misapprehensions and even prejudices regarding fertility treatments (there are few people who haven’t encountered teeth clenching moments with well-meaning but insensitive phrases like “if you just relax, it will happen” or “at least you can adopt”). And while happy events can cheer us up and provide a break from the daily grind, it can sometimes be hard to attend events like baby showers or kid’s birthdays. 

Feeling that other people don’t understand what IVF truly entails can put many off socialising, and discourage them from talking about their fertility issues. But no matter how strong the urge is to hermit ourselves away, the inevitable result of this feeling alone – something that can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety. It can be really helpful, if this is the case, to seek support groups and couples who have gone through (or are going through) the same thing. 

Juggling our professional responsibilities around frequent appointments and the side-effects of hormone treatment is also very draining, especially as we try to maintain our work performance with so many other things to think about. The notorious “fertility rollercoaster” of hopes and disappointments – complete with seemingly endless waits between consultations, referrals and results – can leave us in a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, and stress is a key factor of this experience. 

The comforting news for people understandably stressed out by the IVF process is that, contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that stress doesn’t appear to have any impact on the success of IVF. It’s theorised that this is because, while stress certainly can affect our fertility when we’re trying for a baby, during IVF hormones are administered which override our natural processes in this regard anyway. This vastly reduces the negative influence of stress hormones, so couples needn’t add “being too stressed” to the list of things to worry about. 

Stress does, however, have a very big impact on our wellbeing. While we can’t expect life to go smoothly, (and IVF is one of those moments that many find problematic) we shouldn’t have to put up with being extremely stressed and unhappy for extended periods of time in any circumstances. Meditation lets us feel better in the moment while also helping us to build resilience over the long term, and is an ideal stress-reduction method for couples going through IVF.

 

Meditation for IVF

 

For some, especially if they have already been through many years of fertility treatments and rounds of IVF, the main focus is to emotionally survive the next step on their journey. However, staying positive while trying to get pregnant needn’t be a huge struggle, where you fight against yourself see the best in every situation – and absolutely shouldn’t involve pushing down your true feelings in order just to get through. 

No matter if you are on your first round of IVF with a great prognosis, or facing your fifth and battling to retain confidence, you are going to have worries and this will be an unavoidingly hard time. It’s likely if you have faced fertility issues that you have been recommended and explored a variety of complementary therapies, with one eye how much they may help you conceive, but it may be best in this instance to think of meditation as something that’s just for you. 

With all the aforementioned deluge of appointments to get to, you may have found that you are busier than ever – and with a lot of worries that make the idea of focusing or emptying your mind simply impossible. This is where a meditation technique like Beeja can be so helpful. While mindfulness can be very helpful and may work very well for you, you may be struggling with it, simply because it requires quiet, focus and concentration at a time where your mind is busy with apprehensions and to-do lists. 

Beeja meditation, on the other hand, simply requires you to repeat a personalised mantra in your mind and flow effortlessly into a deeply relaxed state. So rather than trying to body scan, be aware of your thoughts or focus on a leaf, you simply repeat a mantra, and guide yourself back to it if you become distracted. 

The benefits of this for our state of mind and general wellbeing are manifold, and meditation for IVF really can help us stay positive simply by making us actually feel that bit happier and less anxious; we aren’t just telling ourselves to look on the bright side, it’s happening naturally. 

By allowing us to comprehensively escape negative self-talk for 20 to 40 minutes every day, with its regrets over the past and fears for the future, meditation allows us to quieten our irrational worries and accept the things that are out of our control. We find ourselves more able to let the little things slide and be kinder to ourselves, seeing things for how they really are, rather than how we fear they may be. 

For example, rather than spiralling into a spin of panic if your employer mentions that your performance has suffered during the absences and distractions that come with IVF, you can see that this situation a) isn’t urgent b) is perfectly understandable given the circumstances and c) can be rectified. Forgiving yourself for not being at your best and letting go of the small stuff will make going through IVF that little bit easier to deal with. 

Meditation will also help you sleep at a time where an overactive mind can easily keep you up at night. Everything seems that much greyer and more difficult when we are exhausted, creating a cycle of stress that further compromises your ability to sleep once bedtime rolls around. By meditating every day, even those living with chronic insomnia have been able to achieve deep and satisfying sleep and move on from their constant wakefulness. 

With a full nights’ sleep behind you, naturally more positive outlook and fewer worries rushing around your mind, you should also find that meditation makes it easier to connect with and support your partner. Fertility treatment isn’t easy for any couple, and with so much strain it’s no surprise if we sometimes snap at those closest to us. Meditation removes the barriers of stress and tiredness that so often get in the way of true communication, making it that bit less difficult to be giving and considerate when you need to be. 

If you are currently going through IVF and feel that meditation could be beneficial to you, get in touch with a member of our team

 

Words by Holly Ashby

 

This entry was posted in blog.

What Not To Expect From Meditation

what not to expect from meditation

 

Mantra to Moksha: 7 Misconceptions about Meditation, Dissolved!

 

Are you intimidated, or perhaps unsure where to begin, when it comes to learning about meditation? Fair enough. The practice of meditation winds gracefully back through the last 6000 years of history, and through the sands of time. It is no wonder, therefore, that the strands of tradition woven through this ancient art subdivide infinitesimally into different lineages; each steeped in its own mythologies. 

The manufacture of myth is an intrinsic part of the human psyche – indeed, it is one of our internal mechanisms of meaning-making. Making up stories which alchemise into hearsay is how we make sense of ourselves, each other, and the world around us. It is no wonder, then, that the mythos of meditation is as old as the practice itself. A facet of this dynamic that is often overlooked, however, is that the mythic lore surrounding meditation continues – to this day – to evolve and grow. 

 

Folklore or falsity: what’s in a myth?

 

Just as it has been throughout history, the word “myth” today is an umbrella term for two different entities: myths are folkloric legends that populate our collective consciousness, and they are also beliefs which are demonstrably untrue, yet inexplicably widely held. Among the meditation myths that just won’t die, for instance, is the idea that you have to have a calm mind to meditate; not true, but regularly reposted nonetheless!

Contemporarily created myths about the ancient practice of meditation abound, confusing and repelling many millions of people who would benefit from it, if only they understood how complicated it isn’t. Although the misconceptions keep being generated, the basic core values of mediation have been the same since its inception. Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about meditation, which – once deconstructed – should no longer serve as obstacles to taking it up.

 

Myth 1: Meditation requires a clear head

 

The idea that you need a clear head to practice is one of the most pervasive misconceptions about meditation. It stems from widespread conflation between what meditation entails and the effects it can produce. Meditation is an umbrella term for a wide variety of different techniques that involve either occupying, or observing, the workings of your mind. 

As many of the characters in the 7th century BCE Sanskrit epic mythological poem Ramayana find, it is actually particularly useful in a crisis, such as when you’ve been banished to a forest in exile or kidnapped by a demon. Now as then, there is absolutely no need to start meditating with a clear head. Achieving some mental clarity, and the ability to think straight and see the bigger picture, is one of the most sought-after benefits of mediation rather than a requirement for practicing it. 

 

Myth 2: Meditation involves sitting still for hours at a time

 

Although the archetypal conceptual image of meditation involves a person sitting, cross-legged, in tranquil surroundings, one of the principal characteristics of meditation – and a factor in its indomitable endurance as a human pursuit – is the fact that you can do it anywhere, in any context. Although there are some traditional poses which you might like to adopt, the salient characteristic of your meditation position is that you feel sufficiently comfortable in it to concentrate during your practice – this can vary depending on factors like your age, body type, and any physical limitations. 

From Sufi whirling to kundalini yoga, meditation can be practiced in all manner of traditional positions and movements, but – for the less contortion-curious – it is also perfectly possible to access the benefits of meditation by bringing techniques into your consciousness as you move through the day. With mantra meditation, for example, the time it takes to wait for the bus can become a glade of restorative possibilities within a seemingly back-to-back, hectic schedule. 

 

Myth 3: Meditation is a challenge to relax 

 

You’ve set aside time to meditate. You’ve listened to today’s exercise on your new meditation app. Just like you did yesterday. And the day before. And now you’re exhausted, because you’ve been up since 6:30 am. You’re also infinitesimally more anxious by the second about how you’ll manage to do everything tomorrow, on top of everything you didn’t quite finish doing today. If this sounds familiar, you may also be acquainted with a sensation of having “failed” or “missed the trick” to meditation. 

The chances are that, technically, you’re doing everything perfectly, and you are perhaps simply yet to find the right meditation technique for you. The potential benefits of meditation are so great, however, that it’s worth exploring a variety of techniques, and consulting a well-respected teacher, in order to discover your personal pathway into meditation. 

 

Myth 4: Done properly, meditation should stop you thinking about other things

 

Akin to the common misperception that you need to start your meditation practice with a clear head, there is also a widespread myth that your meditation practice is somehow unsuccessful if your day-to-day worries, wonderings and current groundswells of emotion crop up. In actual fact, some forms of meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, are specifically designed to interact with whatever thoughts and feelings arise. The technique involves learning to observe your ideas as they burgeon, rather than letting them take you on new journeys. 

Many people consider it easier to jump aboard one particular train of thought than to resist boarding any of the other trains that pass through the station of your mind during the session. In Beeja meditation, which is based on the oldest form of meditation in the world, rather than attempting to not get sucked into any of the tunnels offered by your thoughts, you concentrate your mind on silently thinking your own personal mantra. And, liberatingly, there is no “done properly” to aim for. Your mantra becomes deeply imbued with your personal energy the more you use it, rendering everyone’s meditative experience unique. 

 

Myth 5: Meditation produces instant results 

 

Of all the meditation myths, this is the one that sends most people, confused and a bit disgruntled, into the toxic “tried it; it wasn’t for me” headspace – a realm it can take years to emerge from before you’re ready to dip another toe in the shallows of your higher consciousness. Once you’ve found a meditation practice that works for you, you will start to feel subtle – and then increasingly profound – shifts in your thought patterns and the way you process situations. 

The unfolding of these changes, and your awareness of them, might span days, weeks, or months. There is no set of prefab targets to hit for “effective meditation,” and neither will you emerge from your first session – nor your 120th! – with “all the answers.” Instead, there’s time to chill (even if, like meditation itself, this is an art you’re yet to master…). 

 

Myth 6: Meditation is a surefire way of having ‘otherworldly experiences’

 

From many of the viral depictions and descriptions of meditation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ll leave your body during the session, entering a nebulous starlit hyperspace. 

The keys to spiritual enlightenment will glisten invitingly on little gossamer pillows, you imagine, proffered by invisible, galactic agents of the cosmos. As you reach out your tentacle – tumescent with unfamiliar energies, yet strangely familiar; it’s yours, after all – you will grasp each key with a wave of deep recognition. “Well done,” you’ll say to yourself as your timer beeps and your 20 minutes of meditation is up, “you went for ‘the Classic’ again, and you smashed it.” Unless, of course, you didn’t. Which, for most people, will be the case every time. 

Transcendental experiences in meditation can and do occur, but they’re different for everyone, and very rarely fit – or even remotely resemble – any of the stereotypes. As you get deeper into your practice, it is increasingly likely that new and unfamiliar experiences will open up to you. However, preparing for, or worse, courting, these experiences is a surefire way to be disappointed. Let the cosmos, and any stray cephalopod fantasies therein, come to you. 

 

Myth 7: Meditation is a religious practice

 

There are so many religions, and traditions, which involve meditation, that it’s easy to see where the misconception that it is a religious practice comes from. However, although it is frequently practiced in a religious context, there is nothing religious about meditation itself. Especially, if it is taught and practiced in a secular setting. Becoming familiar with a meditation technique in its own right will allow you to begin reaping the benefits of meditation in a way that is meaningful for you, without reference to any of the myriad religious schools of thought associated with it.

 

From myth to urban legend: Beeja is meditation for everyone 

 

Having thoroughly delineated what meditation is not, we’d like to leave you with an idea of what it is. Although there are as many definitions of meditation as there are traditions and techniques, at its essence, it is a means of befriending your mind. 

Beeja meditation, for instance, is a relationship that you create between yourself, and the words that form your mantra. While other meditation practices out there may draw on religious principles or symbology, mantra-based is truly a technique which is about the individual. It is a personal journey with a holistic focus on you. Contact us today to find out more about how to begin your exploration of Beeja meditation, or to sign up for our courses and classes

Words by Rosalind Stone

This entry was posted in blog.

The Best Spots in London For Summertime Meditation

best spots in london for summetime meditation

 

Meditating outside has to be one of life’s great pleasures – and with summer well and truly settled in, it’s something we’ll get to do a whole lot more in the coming months! Luckily, London is one of the world’s greenest cities, so the opportunity to relax in nature is never that far away. If you would like a little inspiration for taking your meditation practice out into the wider world, here are some of the best spots in London for meditating under blues skies and sunshine.

 

Hoxton Square

Sometimes, the best place to be is right on your doorstep. Our meditation centre is situated on Hoxton Square in Shoreditch, and if we fancy unwinding outside, then the green space outside our door is the perfect place. 

As this garden was laid out in 1683, it is thought to be one of the oldest squares in London. Now a buzzing community hub which is the centre of the arts and cultural scene in Shoreditch, Hoxton Square is rarely quiet – but with our meditation technique, that doesn’t matter.

 

Regents Park

We have a particular affection for Regents Park, which combines airy open spaces with manicured gardens and elegant tree-lined pathways. There are more than 12,000 roses in Queen Mary’s Gardens, and contemplating the perfection of these flowers will put you in the ideal mood to settle down and let your meditation practice take you to a place of pure tranquility.

 

St. James’s Square

St. James’s Square is perhaps one of the most famous, and most impressive, squares in London. With such fascinating history and architecture surrounding this location, as well as admirable public art within it, exploring for half an hour before meditating on the grassy lawn is a great lunch-break option.

 

Epping forest

Head a little out of the city to discover Epping forest, an ancient woodland and former royal hunting ground. There have been trees here since 1000 BCE (which makes you wonder if you’ll spot a Green Man, or even a couple of Ents) and archaeological investigation has unearthed some of Britain’s oldest human activity here, in the form of worked flints. They aren’t many places where you can just minutes from a motorway but feel immersed in glorious countryside, which makes this a great location for nature-loving Londoners.

 

Tavistock Square

Got a spare hour before jumping on a train from Euston or St Pancras? Head to Tavistock Square and catch a bit of a breather. Designed in 1806, the highlight of this square is the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, sculpted by Fredda Brilliant and installed in 1968 – and there’s lots of other art to enjoy here too.  

 

Queen’s Wood

Another ancient woodland situated in Haringey, this nature reserve is another retreat from the city that offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy meditation under a canopy of leaves. This wood is thought to be a descendant of the original wildwood that stretched across the majority of Britain 5,000 years ago, and any keen birdwatchers among you will have the chance to spot one of the three species of woodpecker that live here.

 

Along the Thames

One of the pleasures of living in London is all the fantastic walks you can take along the length of The Thames – the heart of this city. Make this experience all the more wonderful by choosing a couple of particularly lovely places to stop and practice your daily meditation. Not only might you get a bit of a tan in the process, you will also discover places you may never have visited by allowing yourself to wander where the river takes you.

 

Mayfair, Brown Hart Gardens

Found yourself feeling overwhelmed on Oxford Street? Escape to The Brown Hart Gardens, a peaceful raised terraced garden in Mayfair that’s located (rather surprisingly) above an electricity sub-station. This small oasis isn’t as grand or leafy as other spaces in London, but it is beautifully designed and a convenient antidote to shopping stress.

These are just a few of our suggestions, but with Beeja meditation, you really can meditate anywhere you want – the power of your mantra and the simplicity of the technique lets you find quiet even in the busiest of settings. So whether you head to a gorgeous Royal Park or duck into your favourite cafe, you can enjoy the peace and stillness of meditation wherever you are.

Words by Holly Ashby 

This entry was posted in blog.