Meditation, yoga nidra, mindfulness – what is the difference?

While these are all quite similar they employ slightly different approaches to the same goal.  The aim of each one is to bring an increased feeling of happiness and contentment into your everyday life.

Meditation has been practiced all over the world by different groups of people, for thousands of years.  Traditional meditation is practiced in a sitting position; we picture a serene and slightly austere figure, sitting upright, eyes closed, hands resting on the knees. 

The meditation practice may involve gazing at a candle flame, visualizing a relaxing place or object, allowing your attention to rest on images, counting the breath, or other similar ideas.  Some meditation practices involve the use of sound, setting up vibrations in your body. There are stories of monks and swamis sitting in silent meditation and going without food for extended periods of time; these people gaining enlightenment from their experience.  One popular meditation practice is the Buddhist practice of sending compassion to yourself and to others.

Yoga nidra is a yogic relaxation practice.  At the end of any yoga class there will always be a period of lying on your back concentrating on the breath.  The length of this varies according to the teacher’s style.  Yoga nidra is practiced lying down in a position known as shavasana, or “corpse pose”.  Your yoga teacher will guide you through the steps to set up in shavasana for the practice of yoga nidra.  Once you are settled on the floor, you will then do a practice to feel into your senses and scan through your body to achieve a sense of total relaxation.  You may then be guided through other stages, such as watching your breath, moving your attention to different parts of the body, bringing thoughts of compassion to mind, or working on an idea to bring it to fruition.

Mindfulness meditation is used to bring your attention into the present.  Too often we are thinking about the past or the future, wasting the most precious moment that is the present.  When learning mindfulness you will usually begin doing a seated meditation, often in a chair to make it more accessible to all people.  The meditation practice will focus on bringing your attention to the present moment, to your internal thought processes.  You will be taught how mindfulness can be brought into and used in almost any aspect of your day to day life.

The three are similar.  Each one aims to bring you into the present moment, to put you in control of your feelings and your life, and aims to bring you and others happiness and contentment.

Our busy lives, striving for perfection, for more possessions, a better job, a smarter car, all get in the way of simply being.  Our expectations make us unhappy rather than letting us enjoy what we have, right here, right now.  It doesn’t matter whether you use meditation, yoga nidra or mindfulness, just start with one, here and now, and feel your life improve.

The relaxation you achieve through these meditation practices is far more than the relief from tiredness you may achieve by simply sitting down and resting, or taking a nap.  It is bringing you back home to your body, using a profound level of relaxation.

I recommend you try them all, do each whenever they suit the circumstances.  Even when you find a favourite, you will probably want to go back to the others now and again.  As with anything, your meditation practice will change and mature over time.  You may find you prefer one type of practice now, but later may change.  It really doesn’t matter, as long as you find contentment and growth through your practice.