Yoga and meditation share a very close relationship. As an Eastern exercise, yoga stems from the meditational practices of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu practitioners. Today, people all over the world use yoga as a form of holistic exercise. Those who continue to combine yoga and meditation, however, cite that it is an effective stress reliever that builds strength and stability, as well as mental clarity and discipline.
As early as 3000 B.C., yoga was practiced by spiritualists as a way attaining physical and spiritual strength and health. It derives its name from the Sanskrit word "yuga," which means to unite or join. Some individuals who practice yoga as a spiritual exercise combine yoga and meditation in an effort to join the individual soul to the universe.
There are several different forms of yoga that can be used as a meditative practice. Hatha yoga is the most common form practiced in the West. As such, it is a very basic practice that integrates physical poses with specific breathing methods. Some practice this form simply for a yoga workout, while others participate in hatha yoga as a part of their spiritual practice.
Yoga and meditation both employ breathwork, which refers to a strict mental focus on the breath and how it relates to the body. During breathwork, a person attempts to control her breathing or create a conscious breathing pattern. A rigorous yoga workout involves concentrated breathwork in tandem with unique poses, which require a strict level of focus on the body and the mind. When combined in this way, yoga and meditation can become a spiritual discipline.
Those who practice yoga and meditation together do so to increase their mental focus, to quiet and even master the mind, as well as the body. In part, the goal of such is to overcome distractions and to endure physical positions that can be physically and mentally uncomfortable, but that are believed to be good for both the body and the mind. Doing so can be a stress reliever, as well as a way to increase mental clarity and strength.
When used as more than a physical exercise, yoga is believed to consist of multiple functions. These functions include discipline, observance, physical exercise, breath control, sensory control, mental concentration, meditation and achievement of an enlightened state of consciousness. Yoga and meditation, are therefore, inextricably bound when viewed in this way.
A common misconception about yoga and meditation is that these practices are a religion unto themselves, which they are not. Yoga, as well as meditation, is often a part of a person’s religious life, but neither yoga nor meditation stand alone as a religion. Individuals who practice yoga along with meditation represent a diverse group of people from multiple religious backgrounds, with some having no ties with religion whatsoever.