To understand the difference between yoga and zen, it’s important to first understand the definition of the two and where the terms came from.

In this article, we will look at the meaning behind ‘yoga’ and ‘zen’, the ways in which they differ, and ultimately, how they can be used together to help you make the most of your yoga practice.

What is yoga?

When considering yoga vs. zen, it’s important to note that the term ‘yoga’ refers to much more than just moving through asanas (or poses). In fact, there are 8 elements to yoga – referred to as the 8 limbs of yoga.

The 8 limbs are as follows:

  • Yama – abstinence
  • Niyama – observances
  • Asana – postures
  • Pranayama – breathing
  • Pratyahara – withdrawal
  • Dharana – concentration
  • Dhyana – meditation
  • Samadhi – absorption

Combining these 8 elements is thought to be the route to leading a morally correct and purposeful life.

What is zen?

So what makes ‘zen’ different?

Zen is a Buddhist practice. The word ‘zen’ is a translation of ‘dhyana’. Ring any bells? It’s one of the 8 limbs of yoga! This means that zen (or meditation) is just one way of practicing ‘yoga’ in its full sense.

Zen doesn’t have to mean that you sit in a cross-legged position on the floor for 3 hours without thinking. Meditation comes in many forms, and achieving zen is considered by many as a way of cultivating happiness in what otherwise might be mundane – think grocery shopping or washing dishes.

By being fully present in our bodies at all times, we start to learn to appreciate the smaller things in life that we may never have noticed otherwise.

So how do the two work together?

For a moment, let’s think about the term ‘yoga’ as one that only describes practicing asanas. How can zen help us in our yoga practice and vice versa?

Becoming present in your mind and your body during a yoga class will help you to understand the specific needs of your body and keep negative thoughts at bay. Practicing zen during yoga will keep you focused on the present and enable you to adjust your yoga practice in the best way to suit your body each time you practice.

Asana practice was originally designed as a way of preparing the body to sit in meditation. If you want to be comfortable enough to sit still in meditation (or a state of zen) for a long period of time, an hour of yoga might be just the way to do it!

So really, there is no way of separating yoga and zen from one another. They are one of the same thing! The more you practice yoga as asana and meditation, the more you will begin to understand how to use the two together to achieve a wholesome practice – both on and off the mat.