Pranayama Vs Meditation: See Their Surprising & Outstanding Differences Now

Pranayama vs Meditation, which one is efficient or should one go with? For a beginner, which one should one start with? This is an essential question that one may ask themself, that is if you are seeking to start enhancing your self awareness.

To have a better understanding of these two practices and their differences, it is critical to have a sneak preview of the underpinnings and history or origin of each practice. Notably, Pranayama and Meditation are part of Yoga Sutras, or Ashtanga Yoga meaning the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Eight Limbs of Yoga or Yoga Sutras/Ashtanga Yoga – Their History

The Yoga Sutras were compiled by Pantajali around 400 CE. Daniel Lacerda, in his book, ‘2,100 Asanas; The Complete Yoga Poses’ delves into an explanation of the history of yoga in the introductory part of the book. According to Daniel, the concept of Yoga dates back to the Harrapan culture, about 3500 years ago.

Fast forward, around 800 BCE, a collection of texts – named Upanishads – containing early concepts of Hinduism stipulated a precise way of achieving enlightenment. The Upanishads ordained that the enlightenment could be achieved by a disciplined yoga practice under an experienced Yoga practitioner or teacher.

The Upanishads outlined two paths of of enlightenment through Yoga, namely;

  • Karma Yoga – Selfless dedication of service to others
  • Jnana Yoga – Intense study of spiritual writings

Consequently, as explained by the aforementioned author, Daniel, a series of collections were introduced and gained prominence. They included Maitrayaniya Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita, which formed the Mahabharata collection.

Notably, the Bhagavad Gita later enjoined three devotion methods, which are Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. It was after this that Pantajali came up with the Yoga Sutras.

The eight limbs of Yoga/Yoga Sutras include:

  1. Yama – Self-restraint
  2. Niyama – Self-purification through self-restraint and discipline
  3. Asana – Seat or Postures used in Yogic practices
  4. PranayamaBreathe control
  5. Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – One-pointed concentration
  7. DhyanaMeditation
  8. Samadhi – Total absorption

From the above information, we can deduce that both pranayama and meditation are practices that are drawn from a major single practice; Yoga. Our two subject yogic practices, as will be noted in the rest of this article, are instrumental in getting individuals to attain self-realization. This is an important goal for everyone to achieve, given the lofty demands that the contemporary life bestows us. The ultimate result of achieving self-realization would be kindness, selflessness, and oneness.

Now that we have seen a brief history of pranayama and meditation, let us look at the distinctive features of each practice, their relations if any, including differences.

Pranayama vs Meditation

I know that the post is meant to differentiate between pranayama and meditation, and you are probably asking if we detoured..

Not yet. To know better, let us then have a sneak preview of what each yogic practice means, right?

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is one among the 8 limbs of Yoga sutras. It is a yogic culture practice that helps one control their breath.

Understanding and implementing the invaluable science-based knowledge of our life force energy is vital to achieving the mind-body-soul connection.

Basically put, Pranayama is derived from two words; Prana – Vital force/energy, and Yama- self-restraint. Pranayama is thus defined as the practices that are geared towards helping one to gain control over their vital energies.

It is important to note that prana flows through nadis, energy channels, and is stored in chakras, energy vortices.

The results of Pranayama is a balanced body and a controlled mind, helping one to experience higher states of consciousness. This is achieved in essentially three stages of respiration;

  • Inhalation – Pooraka
  • Retention – Kumbhaka
  • Exhalation – Rechaka

Inhalation and Exhalation should be prolonged, to allow more time for the assimilation of prana. It also enables sufficient time for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the cells.

Consequently, this enables the nadis, which are the energy pathways, to be cleared up, as well as the chakras, the stores of energy or pranas. As these activities continues through the wholistic pranayama process, the chakras are unblocked, making one to be ready and due to experience higher consciousness.

What is Meditation?

Meditation or Dhyana, on the other hand, is a contemplative practice that entails focus-attention. In other words, meditation is a technique that involves practices to bring the mind into a stable state or calmness.

It may involve focusing the mind on an object, activity, senses, or thought(s). At times, some yogis suggest letting the mind free and wander.

Notably, meditation is an umbrella term, and it may involve specific techniques such as mindfulness (Paliterm sati – Buddhist term of mindfulness), mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, among other types of meditation. This article on the neuroscience of meditation explains the science of this diversity in details.

The essence of meditation is to attain awareness and bring the mental or cognitive processes under control. Eventually, one can be calm, have clarity of mind and thought, as well as enhanced concentration.

Pranayama and Meditation comparison or differences
Pranayama vs Meditation – Any noticeable difference?

To simplify this, both pranayama and meditation undeniably deliver the same result; altered mental cognition. The both fall under the same cluster of the 8 limbs of Yoga.

It is also common to find both practices classified as meditation, but there is a need to learn the difference as we have just learnt.

In a nutshell, if you are seeking to attain self-actualization, it is important to differentiate the yogic practices of pranayama and meditation. Pranayama will help you gain spiritual benefits such as opening of the chakras – among other benefits, while meditation in general (irrespective of type) will help one acquire attention regulation, alleviate stress and anxiety, among others.

Pranayama or Meditation? What is the Verdict?

The difference between the two yogic practices is not far apart. In fact, meditation encapsulates pranayama, meaning they are both enable one to achieve clarity of thought, and a calm mental state.

However, my experience is that one can practice both, even during a self-awareness practice set. That is, practice Pranayama for say 10 minutes, then proceed with your choice of meditation for 15 minutes. I promise you that you will like the end result! Start with Pranayama then proceed to meditation.