Separating Yoga from Meditation

I meditate. I meditate a lot; at least once, and sometimes twice a day. I find that it reduces my overall stress levels, allows me to focus on the task at hand, strengthens me mentally, and makes me feel happier overall. However, I do not combine yoga with meditation. If not for the 20th century development of linking meditation with yoga, I wouldn’t even have to write this blog. Truth be told, my intrigue with meditation arose as a result of following bloggers like Tim Ferriss and Dave Asprey; not from the yogis. Tim, Dave and others like them made me interested in meditation because they explained it in terms of mental performance. And that is the primary goal of my meditation.

Let me explain this process in a list of steps.

  1. Meditate to train yourself to take control of your mind. Notice when your mind starts to run away from your consciousness, acknowledge it, and go back to thinking about nothing.
  2. This strengthens me mentally – it allows me to not let my emotions or my racing mind to overtake me and move me into a state of frustration or anxiety.
  3. This mental strength helps me focus on the task at hand. I am not as easily distracted.
  4. I have less stress because I am not as easily distracted, and things that would normally bother me do not usually make it through my shield.
  5. I can think more clearly, create more, and create better, because I have less stress.

Delving deeper, I could also talk about (1) improving my concentrative abilities and allowing me to ponder concepts regarding business, life, relationships, love, and, maybe most importantly, commonly-held beliefs, (2) being content with simply sitting still and doing nothing, and (3) realizing that not every thing that comes to my mind requires me to take action, and allows me to prioritize what is important and to act accordingly.

But that’s not the point of this blog. (That’s next week.) I want to talk about why yoga and meditation simply don’t mix for me, and also why it DOES make sense for some people.

I used to get infuriated by yogis attempting to dissuade me from teaching yoga because I did not incorporate meditation into my style. For them, not combining the two was the equivalent of yoga blasphemy. I’ve had countless people tell me that it’s not yoga is you’re not combining meditation with yoga. Fine. I’ll call it Man Flow Yoga, trademark it, and you can run to Yoga Alliance and tell on me. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here helping people to heal their bodies by giving great cues, demonstrating proper technique, and making this workout FUN. (If you’re interested in reading about whether or not Man Flow Yoga is yoga, click here.)

Let’s do some myth busting, because facts are usually pretty effective when you’re writing something. When people were yoga-ing two-thousand years ago, the only pose that they were actually doing was a seated pose, and they were meditating while doing that. They did not go through an hour-long vinyasa class while listening to top-40 music, followed by a group meditation for 2 minutes. NO. That’s not an ancient practice. It’s a new invention. So don’t act like I’m breaking some millennia old tradition by creating a workout based on postures and exercises that were actually developed in the 20th century.

Secondly, combining your physical fitness with your mental fitness makes perfect sense – to some people. It’s a great idea to give your mind and your body a comprehensive workout, and why not be efficient and put the two together? My complaint is that I find it almost impossible to meditate when I am with other people. My meditation is distracted even if my dog is sitting too close to me. Imagine what sitting in a room full of other people does. I have ZERO ability to focus on the divide between my mind and my consciousness when there are 15 sweaty people sitting around me, and there is a yoga instructor trying to guide me through her own meditation, quite often in the format of a song or chanting. While her song might be nice to listen to, and her chanting fills me with rage, it does not provide for optimal meditation conditions.

Historically, yoga was not a group activity. It was taught in private one on one sessions, from the master to the student. The 7:15 evening flow class at your local yoga studio in Lahore was not a thing. In the one on one setting, it would make more sense to combine the physical (asana) and mental practices. Conversely, the usual combination of meditation and yoga, which involves spending 2 minutes at the end of class with people you probably don’t know while the instructor talks for 1 of those 2 minutes, does not create an ideal meditation condition.

Even though combining your mental and physical fitness may make sense to some, it does not to me. When I first started attending yoga classes and learning the new movements, the ending always baffled me. We just worked out, and now we are laying down on the ground and “meditating”. Interesting concept. What if I did that at the gym after I finished all my reps and sets? “Hey guys, just finished my last set. I’m going to be over in the corner in savasana.” Keep in mind that I look at yoga as a form of physical fitness; a comprehensive form of physical fitness that addresses flexibility, core strength, balance, and endurance, while also aiding in stress relief, improving mental function, increasing testosterone, and reducing anxiety, but nevertheless, a form of physical fitness.

If you look at yoga as more than that, than we can absolutely agree to disagree. I guarantee you that a Facebook conversation or an exchange of comments on a blog is not going to bring us any closer to finding common ground. However, at least you know my point of view now. And wouldn’t it be much more yogic if we could all just respect each other’s views and get on with our lives?

Cheers. 🙂

PS – Click here for an in-depth look at my own meditation practice, and how you can create a system of meditation for mental performance.

6 thoughts on “Separating Yoga from Meditation”

  1. This entry is so on point for me. I just had a discussion with my brother about this same topic. I pretty much said the same thing, though i don’t meditate personally. But i do love the physical benefits of yoga and thats why i got in to it. Thanks for the post! Can’t wait to read next weeks!

  2. This is the very reason I follow your work. I’m a practicing Buddhist and meditate plenty also. I like to utilize yoga to focus the body not the mind.

  3. Mate … I so agree with your point of view. Man Flow Yoga gets me really pumped after a workout. It’s like isometric yoga.
    I try to do my meditation in bed at night … just focusing on my breathing. When I’m done, I’ll get up; do some stretching and get ready for work coz it’s already morning and I just had a good night sleep.

  4. When I heard you on the Ben greenfield podcast I was interested in manflowyoga because it sounded like a killer workout. I agree with your viewpoints. I think keeping the mental and physical training separate is a much more effective practice.

    1. Glad to hear that you found me through Ben’s podcast. It was awesome being on there. Ben’s a great guy, and extremely knowledgable. It makes much more sense that the physical and mental workouts are separate. Hard to concentrate on all of that at once without developing poor movement patterns!

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