Beyond Asana: The Yoga of Meditation

Comfort is a priority in any meditation posture. If the body is uncomfortable, it becomes a distraction. The second priority is a long neutral spine. Explore the connection between yoga and meditation and how yoga poses can support you in your seated practice.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
yoga before meditation
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

How does yoga before meditation benefit and complement the practice? In this article, learn about the connection between yoga and meditation, how movement can benefit our practice of stillness, and which yoga poses are best for making our seated meditation posture more comfortable.

The Connection Between Yoga And Meditation

These days when we talk about practicing yoga, we’re typically referring to yoga asana, or the physical postures of yoga. However the authentic practice of yoga is largely the practice of meditation. Not only the physical poses, but each of the eight limbs of yoga helps prepare us for the real work, that which takes place in the mind.

In the Yoga Sutra, Master Patanjali describes these eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga in Sanskrit), of which asana practice is only one. Each of yoga’s limbs is intimately connected to meditation, the perfection of which is the final stage of our yogic path, samadhi. Yoga means union, and union of the self with the object of meditation (samadhi) is the ultimate union of yoga.

Yamas & Niyamas

At the foundation of the yogic path are the yamas and the niyamas, the first two limbs of yoga. Following these ethical and moral guidelines frees our mind from worrying about our transgressions and gives us a foundation of peace from which we can more comfortably meditate.

By practicing non-harming (ahimsa), speaking truthfully (satya) and not stealing (asteya), by conserving our energy through sexual restraint (brahmacharya), and by letting go of grasping to anything outside ourselves (aparigraha), we’re able to turn inward with a clear state of mind. 

Our meditation practice is strengthened when we stay mindful of what we consume in both body and mind (saucha), when we practice contentment (santosha) and embrace the challenges along the spiritual path (tapas). We deepen our practice through the study of spiritual texts, and by getting to know our own minds through observation (svadhyaya). One result of our meditation practice is faith in the process, which allows us to surrender (isvara pranidhana).

Discover the ancient wisdom of surrendering and how to surrender in meditation and yoga practice.

Asana

Asana is the third limb of yoga and is most often defined as one’s seat or one’s posture, as in meditation posture. In his sole reference to asana, Patanjali says we should be comfortable and steady in our meditation seat. (YS 2.46)

A commentary on the yoga sutra, the Bhāṣya, which some think was written by Patanjali himself, outlines twelve meditation postures. This includes padmasana, or lotus pose, which we recognize as the classic meditation posture. Of course, padmasana is not a mandate. Notably, Patanjali includes sthirasukhasana as an option for meditation, meaning any seated posture which can be held comfortably for a long time.

Pranayama

Because the wind of the breath, the winds of the mind and the internal winds of the subtle body (prana) are intimately connected, we can settle and quiet the mind by learning to control the breath through pranayama, yoga’s fourth limb. Conscious breathing helps regulate our nervous system, quiets the mind, and gives us energy, preparing us for meditation.

Prathyahara

Naturally, as the mind becomes more quiet and still, we withdraw from the outside world and turn inwards. This inward gaze (pratyahara) is the gaze of meditation. Here in yoga’s fifth limb, we learn not to react to external stimuli, rather to remain equanimous and turn awareness within.

Dharana

Related to the root ‘dhri’ as in drishti, yoga’s sixth limb, dharana, is related to our gaze. Dharana also means to hold or to keep. Dharana asks us to remain steadily concentrated on our inward experience. Our singular point of focus could be the breath, a mantra, a visualization or an idea.

Having developed pratyahara, we establish concentration in the mind, holding the inward gaze steady, often also called drihsti. Learn about the meaning of drishti in Yogic philosophy.

Dhyana

Having learned to concentrate and hold the mind steady in one place, we can now contemplate that which we are focused on with Dhyana, yoga’s seventh limb. In this stage of contemplative meditation, we still perceive a separation between the seer and the thing seen.

Samadhi

In Yoga’s eighth limb, samadhi, we reach full integration. Through the power of meditative concentration and contemplation, we dissolve the belief in a separate, self-existent “me” that is doing the meditating. We become one with the object of meditation.

Yoga Before Meditation: Simple Poses To Prepare You For Meditation

Anyone who has tried to sit still in meditation understands how physical the practice of meditation really is. Yoga asana prepares the body for meditation by building strength, flexibility and resiliency, letting us sit comfortably for longer.

Asana also prepares the subtle body, or pranic body, for meditation by clearing our pranic channels through stretching, twisting and strengthening. By freeing trapped pranic energy, asana helps clear and settle our mind.

Explore the five principles for preparing to meditate that can become part of your ritual.

Preparing The Body For Meditation

Comfort is a priority in any meditation posture. If the body is uncomfortable, it becomes a distraction. The second priority is a long neutral spine. This allows prana to flow freely while we’re in a meditative state.

Explore what prana is and how you can feel it in the body.

To sit comfortably for long periods of time, we need flexibility in the hips and the knees. We need a strong core to hold our spine upright, and we need an open heart and strong back to hold the spine neutral. 

There is no one correct meditation posture. Sit in the posture that works best for your body today. As you practice yoga and meditate more often, your most favored posture might change. Using props such as cushions, yoga blocks, blankets or bolsters can also help you relax as you hold steady.

Discover 5 tips to find a healthy meditation posture.

Yoga Poses Before Meditation

While all types of yoga will increase your comfort in meditation, key gentle and accessible postures are listed below. These yoga poses promote ease in meditation by stretching the knees, hips and spine, and by strengthening the core.

Lower Body

  • Eka pada rajokapotasana, half-pigeon pose for hip flexibility
  • Malasana, garland pose for hip flexibility
  • Supdha badha konasana, reclined butterfly pose for inner thigh flexibility
  • Janu sirsasana, head to knee bend for flexible knees, hips and low back
  • Anjaneyasana, low lunge for flexible hip flexors, psoas and low back
  • Dandasana, staff pose for flexible hamstrings and low back

Core

  • Navasana, boat pose, for strong abdominals
  • Kumbhakasana, high plank pose for core strength 
  • Virabhadrasana, side plank pose for core stabilization
  • Ardha shalabhasana & shalabhasana, half or full locust pose for a strong low back
  • Setu bandhasana, bridge pose for a strong backside

Spinal Flexibility

  • Uttanasana, standing forward fold for spinal lengthening
  • Bitilasana & marjaryasana, cat & cow for spinal flexibility 
  • Bhujangasana, cobra pose for gentle back bending
  • Marichyasana, seated spinal twist
  • Supta matsyendrasana, supine spinal twist

Yoge Before Meditation: A Brief & Gentle Pre-Meditation Yoga Sequence

Try the above poses in any order that makes sense for you or use the following gentle yoga sequence to prepare the body for meditation. Spend as much time as you’d like in each shape before beginning a formal seated meditation. 

  • Begin seated in easy pose (sukhasana) or hero’s pose (virasana)
  • Reach your right arm overhead and stretch to your left
  • Repeat on the opposite side then return to sitting upright
  • With your spine upright, take a gentle twist to your right, then twist to your left
  • Return to center, and come forward to all fours
  • Moving slowly with your breath, inhale to cow pose, exhale to cat pose
  • Repeat at least 5 times
  • Step your right leg back, then step your left leg back and come to high plank
  • Hold for 3 cycles of breath
  • Slowly lower to your belly
  • Inhale to a low cobra pose (bhujangasana) and hold for three breaths
  • Slowly lower back down
  • Sweep your arms back by your sides and lift your chest again for locust pose (salabhasana)
  • Optionally lift your hands and feet. Hold for 3 breaths, then slowly lower
  • Press back to child’s pose for 3-5 cycles of breath
  • From child’s pose, slide your right knee forward to half pigeon (eka pada rajokopatasana)
  • Hold for 5 cycles of breath, then do the same with the left leg forward
  • Sit up and swing both legs in front of you for staff pose (dandasana)
  • With your knees slightly bent, fold forward (paschimottanasana)
  • Rise up, then roll to your back for a supine twist (supta matsyendrasana)
  • Return to the center for happy baby (ananda balasana)
  • Spend a few moments in savasana before returning to your seat for meditation

Feel into your body in your asana practice with this playlist of staff-picked yoga tracks:Remember, your meditation posture itself is yoga asana. By practicing consistently and remaining still for a little longer each day or each week, you’ll develop greater comfort in both body and mind.

Meditation. Free.
Always.