Yoga and Buddhism stem from the same Indian lineage yet remain distinct spiritual paths. Still, there’s natural crossover between the two disciplines, and mutual respect among practitioners of each.
Buddhist meditation practice and Yoga are really useful for our daily life. This combination aims to develop mindfulness concentration, tranquility and insight. Buddhist meditation and yoga both are very useful to reduce the suffering and cleaning the mind of misconceptions.
History of Buddhist Yoga
References to Hatha Yoga predate the Buddhist period (6th century B.C.) by many centuries. Hatha Yoga was originally developed as an integral part of the Spiritual Path, and as preparation for higher meditative practices. With the birth of Buddha in the 6th Century BC and subsequent popularity of the Buddha’s teachings meditation became one of the main expression of Spiritual Practice along with Yoga exercises designed to still the mind towards this state.
More than 500 years after the Buddha’s death, two great centres of Buddhist ideas were established in India. Nalanda became the centre of the Hinayana – Narrow Path Buddhism and Mingar became the centre for Mahayana – Great Path Buddhism.
The Narrow Path Buddhism claimed orthodoxy, whilst the Greater Path adopted a more liberal view of the teachings of the Buddha and also incorporated some practices not directly touched upon by the Buddha during his life. This included some indigenous Tantric practices, including Hatha Yoga Exercises.
Buddhism, Meditation and Yoga
Early Buddhism incorporated meditation into its practice. In fact the oldest expression of Yoga is found in the early sermons of the Buddha. An innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditation should be combined with the practice of mindfulness with which Yoga could assist the practitioner to this end.
So the difference between the Buddha’s teaching and the yoga presented in other early Indian texts is striking. Meditation alone is not an end, according to the Buddha, and even the highest meditative state is not liberating.
The Yogic thoughts of the Buddha also departed from other traditional thoughts and the essence was that their point of reference became the sage who is liberated in life.
Combining Buddhism, Yoga, and Positive Psychology
“Both the Buddhist monk and the clinical psychologist work toward understanding the forces that determine the inner life.”
The fundamental themes of self-discipline, mindfulness, concentration and ‘being in the present’ are introduced in Buddhist as well as Yoga philosophy. These are easily compared to the concepts of self-control and flow presented by positive psychology. (Ivtzan & Papantoniou, 2014)
The most important correlation however is that of ‘controlling our mind’ and thoughts. Something that can be done at work with meditation, for instance.
According to a study performed by Noah Levine, the correlations between Yogic philosophy and Buddhism are ‘inner well-being’ and ‘having the right thoughts’. In the field of positive psychology Martin Seligman (pioneer of Positive Psychology) presents the similar idea that thinking patterns which are ‘wrong’ or ‘pessimistic’ can lead to suffering. Seligman provides a mental “toolkit” to achieve what he calls the pleasant life by enabling people to think constructively about the past, gain optimism and hope for the future and, as a result, gain greater happiness in the present.
Moreover, a study of the relationship between yoga, ‘meaning of life’ and gratitude revealed that there was a strong correlation between regular yoga practice and ‘higher reports of meaning of life’ (Ivtzan & Papantoniou, Department of Psychology, University of East London, UK). Furthermore, Dr Suzanne Newcombe’s research showed that 85% of the respondents ascribed an enhanced sense of meaning in their lives to their yoga practice. Many practitioners in this study also offered qualitative reflections on their personal experiences of eudemonic wellbeing, encompassing ideas such as yoga giving their life a rootedness and sense of purpose, and yoga forming part of their self-identity.