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Yoga and mindfulness, what’s the difference?

Yoga and mindfulness


The origins of yoga are unclear, but may date back to the Indus Valley Civilisation (3300-1900 BCE). The early textual references date from 500-200 BCE. The main yoga texts studied today are The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali and the Baghavad Gita, part of the classic text the Maharbarata. Yoga came to the attention of the West in the mid-19th century when the study of yoga as a science began.

You will encounter many different definitions of yoga. What follows is the personal view of the directors of Yoga in Schools.

Yoga is not a religion

Yoga is not and never has been a religion. It is practiced by people of all religions and none, not necessarily as an expression of their religious way of life. Yoga, particularly meditation has close associations with some practices in Buddhism. We are not Buddhists, nor do we promote this or any other religion. Yoga  is sometimes confused with Hinduism. It certainly predates, but often walks beside this religion. There are some shared features; this is likely to result from the fact that the two teachers who most influenced the flow of yoga to the west in the early 20th century, Swami Sivananda Saraswati and Swami Tirumala Krishnamacharya, were scholars from a Hindu background.

Yoga and the West

Many pupils descending from these two masters travelled to the west or taught western practitioners who subsequently became influential.  Some adapted and adjusted yoga to work with the pressures of the western lifestyle. Yoga has been defined as consisting of four paths. Raja Yoga, is the path most familiar to us in the West, through its use of postures (asana), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). These are just three of the eight limbs or steps of Raja Yoga. These activities bring many of the benefits of sport whilst focusing explicitly on the controlled use of breathing. Unlike sport, yoga has the specific goal of the management of the mind.

Yoga is a science

Yoga is a collection of knowledge and practices which have been tried, tested and adapted over many years and on every continent. It is highly systematic. The number of scholarly scientific articles on the effects of yoga on mental and physical health has multiplied rapidly in recent years. You can see a summary of these as they relate to children, young people and schools here. We teach our students very explicitly about what is happening to the body and the nervous system when they practice yoga postures and breathing.


As a result of the increase in scientific study, yoga has been applied to a range of contexts particularly the health service. A number of practitioners have worked with health professionals to use aspects of yoga, particularly breathing and meditation to develop ways of tackling conditions such as anxiety and depression or managing pain.  Many of these practices have become known as mindfulness and a series of highly explicit models have been developed for use in different settings including schools, most particularly in the UK through organisations like the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness at the University of Oxford https://www.psych.ox.ac.uk,  the dissemination of the model known as ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) https://contextualscience.org and the work of the Mindfulness in Schools Project https://mindfulnessinschools.org

There are clearly areas of significant overlap between yoga and mindfulness and one practice informs the other. However, our team will not teach a ‘Yoga class’ ie postures, breathing and some aspects of meditation unless they are fully trained to do so. Similarly, if you book us for an INSET day on ‘Mindfulness’ or for mindfulness teaching for staff and children, only Yoga in Schools staff who are fully qualified to do this and who have their own mindfulness practice will deliver the work.

I now have a greater understanding of what ‘mindfulness’ means.

I really liked the balance of looking at self as well as practice in the classroom.

Instructions have been flexible and tailored sessions to meet our needs.

The children now ask us to use their favourite ‘clear mind technique.

Comments from participants in the Clear Mind, Steady Breath Course for Aureus School and its primary partners.  The ‘passion and enthusiasm’ of the course leaders was rated as one of the most effective aspects of the course.

Rachel Williams and Louise Hankinson who have provided inspiring mindfulness training for the Springline partnership of schools and Aureus School and its primary partners in 2017/18