I once heard someone say that meditation is for geeks and yoga is for jocks. That was supposed to be a joke but it reflects a common idea that meditation is a mental practice while yoga is physical one. But meditation is physical – why do we think of it otherwise?
Perhaps that’s because we sit still when we meditate. Exertion is minimal. And the goal we seek… if it’s a calm, clear mind, then that’s a mental goal.
But how do we achieve that calm, clear mind?
You could say we harness metacognition – our awareness of our own thinking – as a way of taming that thinking. It’s metacognition that lets us observe each thought, release it, and redirect our attention to a chosen point of focus. Described this way, meditation might still sound mental: it’s one kind of cognition quieting another.
But what’s key here is the chosen point of focus – the thing we return to instead of following our thoughts into more thinking. If the point of focus is breath, then we’re focusing on a physical process. We’re constantly discovering and rediscovering our physical selves inside, or underneath the attention-consuming tangle of images and ideas that fill our mental stage. We are choosing again and again to anchor our awareness in the sensory experience of inhale/exhale. We’re not simply calming our minds, we’re calming our minds by returning to our bodies.
If thinking is a vortex that leads to disembodimement – an obliviousness to our physical selves – then breath-focused meditation is about re-embodiment. It’s about becoming physical, again.
It’s misleading to say that meditation is for geeks and yoga is for jocks. It’d be more meaningful to say that meditation is about channeling one’s inner jock. The kinds of calm we get from meditation and playing a sport might be more similar than they seem – they both include the calm of embodiment. Meditation’s magic is that it can help us find that embodiment anywhere, without needing the structure of a game – a field, a ball, an opponent – to bring it about.