Yoga meditation: what is it, benefits, techniques
LAST UPDATED: Aug 16, 2021
7 MIN READ
HERE'S WHAT WE'LL COVER
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you may already know that the last pose is called savasana (pronounced “shavasana”), or corpse pose, where you lie quietly and relax on your mat. This pose is an essential part of yoga practice and is a form of yoga meditation.
Meditation is a key part of a yoga practice for many people, and yoga meditation can be a great way for beginner meditators to dip their toes in the meditation waters.
What is yoga meditation?
Many people think yoga and meditation are interchangeable or that they are the same thing. Though they are connected, yoga meditation differs from other meditation practices.
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice from India that uses breath control, physical exercise, and meditative postures. The practice of yoga uses “asanas” or various physical poses to achieve a divine connection with the universe. In fact, the word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit. Some people refer to yoga as moving meditation, where you calm your mind and create awareness through doing the poses (Mohammad, 2019).
Meditation or “dhyana” is also a part of yoga. Like the physical practice of yoga, dhyana also forms a profound connection with the universe by doing mental exercises to bring you to a higher state of consciousness. This connection happens in savasana when you are in a meditative, peaceful state (Mohammad, 2019).
More than 36 million Americans practice yoga regularly (Yoga Alliance, 2016). Yoga was the number one mind and body health practice in the U.S. in 2017, with meditation squeaking behind in second place (Clark, 2018).
The major difference between other types of meditation and yoga meditation is that, depending on the yoga practice, you typically do a yoga meditation after you’ve done a yoga sequence. It’s the final step in yoga: first, you exercise the body, and then let go to help relax and focus the mind.
This meditative practice helps to stabilize your body post-exercise and provide mental clarity, as well as physical, emotional, and spiritual energy.
What are the benefits of yoga meditation?
Yoga and mindfulness meditation are similar in that they both require concentration and focus. The ultimate goal of both of these practices is to feel peaceful, relaxed, in a state of self-awareness, and connected to the universe. This is done through pranayama or regulating and focusing on your breath (Mohammad, 2019).
People often do yoga and meditation for the many health benefits they provide. Together, they can work synergistically to help the body in complementary ways.
Because yoga meditation is typically done after a yoga session, you receive the benefits of yoga and meditation simultaneously.
Here are 12 benefits of yoga meditation:
1. Easy to do
Yoga meditation works great for people who have difficulty focusing or feel like they can’t slow down enough to meditate. It’s easier to let go, be still, and relax after working out your body. If you don’t feel confident with meditating, yoga meditation may help you find your way.
2. Helps relieve pain
Yoga meditation may help relieve pain. A review of several studies found pain relief receptors in the brain were activated by yoga meditation (Jurisic, 2018).
Yoga and meditation can help with back pain, specifically lower back pain (Chang, 2016; Cherkin, 2016). In fact, the American College of Physicians suggests trying yoga if you suffer from chronic low back pain (Chang, 2017).
3. Improves your mental health
Yoga meditation is associated with increased mindfulness and an improved mood. In one study, people who practiced yoga and yoga meditation had better mental health, more profound spiritual well-being, and fewer depressive symptoms than people who didn’t do these practices (Gaiswinkler, 2017).
4. Decreases anxiety and depression
Yoga meditation also increases your level of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Low levels of this neurotransmitter can be linked to anxiety and depression. Some brain scans performed on meditators have shown increased activity in parts of the brain that produce GABA (Krishnakumar, 2015).
In a study that compared a group getting cognitive-behavioral therapy, a control group, and a group that did a Sahaja yoga meditation, the yoga meditation group significantly decreased their anxiety and depression. This type of yoga meditation is based on the Kundalini method that wakes up “chakras” or energy centers in the body (Krishnakumar, 2015).
5. Reboots your brain
The neural pathways in your brain are not set in stone. Both yoga and meditation help form and maintain connections in the brain and increase overall healthy brain activity (Kora, 2021).
The breathing in yoga meditations helps to change your brain waves from excited to relaxed. When you slow your brain waves down, your mind can become clearer, and your brain health can improve (Lee, 2018).
Yoga meditation also helps increase the size of parts of the brain that help you reason, make decisions, and strengthen your willpower (Froeliger, 2012).
6. Reduces stress
Yoga and meditation both reduce stress by promoting physical and mental relaxation. When you’re relaxed, you activate a part of the nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of stress hormones like cortisol. When you reduce stress, you decrease inflammation throughout your body, as well as anxiety. This leads to overall health, especially for your heart (Pascoe, 2017).
7. Improves your sleep quality
Yoga meditations may help you sleep better, which also helps decrease stress, stress-related anxiety, depressive symptoms, and inflammation (Zhou, 2017).
8. Lowers your blood pressure
Yoga meditation helps lower blood pressure, an important factor in heart health and overall wellness (Chung, 2012).
9. Decreases inflammation
There are many markers in the blood that can be measured to gauge inflammation in the body. Yoga has been shown to decrease many of them (Djalilova, 2019).
10. May have anti-aging effects
There’s a chance that yoga meditation may have anti-aging effects. Each chromosome in our DNA has a special sequence of nucleotides (building blocks of DNA) called telomeres. These are at the ends of the DNA “spiral” to protect the chromosome from being damaged. Telomeres get shorter as we age, which is one theory on why aging happens at all. Studies show that yoga meditation like savasana can positively impact telomere length (Mohammad, 2019).
11. Brightens your mood
Yoga and meditation improve your self-awareness and self-compassion, which can help relieve sad or heavy emotions. In a study testing a type of yoga-based emotional training technique, practicing daily for two weeks improved self-compassion and emotional regulation and decreased negative emotions (Patel, 2019).
12. Makes you more resilient
Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from difficult circumstances, is a vital component of physical and mental health. Yoga meditation may help build your resilience through physical exercise, breathing, and meditation in the yoga sequence (Laird, 2019).
How to do yoga meditation
Yoga meditation is done without moving the body. When you do this mindful practice, you will get into position, either sitting or lying down peacefully, letting thoughts and feelings pass without judging them. You keep your eyes closed and your palms facing upward to the sky.
Yoga meditation is often done in a class or with someone instructing you during the meditation, though you may find you can practice it on your own once you have experience with it. Some people use YouTube or online videos for guided yoga meditation.
You may feel your body tingle or shake, especially if you’ve done a more vigorous style of yoga. Some people may fall asleep during yoga meditation. A typical yoga meditation takes about five minutes, though some may last longer.
Yoga meditation techniques
You should feel comfortable while doing yoga and yoga meditation. There are different types of yoga, and some may feel better to you than others. Here are some of the more common yoga styles:
Hatha yoga is a generic term for “basic” yoga.
Restorative yoga uses gentle asanas (postures) with supportive blocks, blankets, and pillows.
Bikram or hot yoga involves doing poses in an artificially heated room.
Vinyasa yoga uses fluid, intense yoga movements that flow from one pose to another.
You may choose to do a yoga meditation in the morning to start the day off or at night to calm you down for sleep.
Whichever yoga style you choose, your instructor will guide you to notice your breathing and how your body moves during the poses. You may see that you feel stronger on one side of your body, or you can hold your balance better on one leg. When you notice these differences, this is a form of mindful self-awareness. This self-awareness lays the foundation for yoga meditation.
You can try some basic yoga moves to get the blood flowing and then lie down for 5-minute yoga meditation (Outside, 2021).
Yoga meditation poses
After doing your yoga movements or postures, you can practice yoga meditation in a couple of different poses.
Corpse pose (savasana)
Lie down on your back with your arms and legs gently stretched out, away from the body, with your palms facing up to the sky. Try to clear your mind while breathing deeply. You might hold this pose for 5–15 minutes.
Reclining bound angle pose
Lie down on your back. Put your feet on the floor with your knees bent. Then slowly move your knees out to bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees fall gently to either side. If you need to use pillows to hold your knees up, you can do so. Keep your hands down, palms up. You can hold this pose for five minutes.
Yoga meditation breathing
Breathing helps you stay focused when doing yoga and yoga meditations. Proper breathing technique helps relax your nervous system and quiets down your mind. Though there are various breathing methods in yoga practice, yoga meditation primarily uses abdominal breathing. Some people like to do alternate nostril breathing just before doing yoga meditation.
When you’re lying down on your back, inflate your belly as you inhale deeply. Feel your belly rise with the air. Slowly exhale the air, trying to empty the belly of as much air as you can. Keep repeating this style of breathing.
Alternate nostril breathing
While sitting, hold one nostril closed with your finger and breathe in through your open nostril. Exhale the air through the open nostril. Now switch your hands to close the open nostril and open the other nostril. Repeat the same breathing pattern on the other side. Keep switching your hands and nostrils a few times. This can help create a feeling of balance before doing yoga meditation.
A good place to start
If you’re new to yoga, you may want to try a gentle version of yoga to start. If you have any injuries, let your instructor know before you try any poses. Consistent practice is the key to getting the health benefits of yoga meditation. You may want to start with a daily 5-minute yoga meditation after doing a few basic yoga postures. Once you see how much better you feel, you may wish to do more. As with starting any exercise program, you may want to speak to your healthcare provider to ensure yoga and yoga meditation are suitable for you.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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