Dec 3, 2022
Many use the term interchangeably, but there are subtle differences
You've probably heard of mindfulness and meditation. But what's the difference between the two?
Mindfulness is a state of being that can be cultivated through practices like meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi. In simple terms, mindfulness is about being in the present moment and living life with purpose. It's about awareness.
Meditation is the means of steadying the mind. Mindfulness meditation can be a way to achieve that. An untrained mind typically flits from one thought to another, or it obsesses (or ruminates) over a stream of thoughts that can overpower your will and self-control. Meditation is about settling the mind.
So, what's the difference between mindfulness and meditation? The answer isn't black and white—it's a bit more nuanced than that. But, in general, mindfulness can be described as a state of mind, while meditation is about steadying the mind.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is one of the tools to developing a successful meditation practice. It's all about being in the present moment and being aware of your thoughts and feelings. When you're mindful, you're not judging or criticizing yourself, but simply observing what's going on inside your head or body.
Thich Nhat Hanh always talked and wrote about the simplicity of mindfulness. We can cultivate mindfulness by starting with the breath. He often said that it starts like this, "Breathing in, I know that I'm breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I'm breathing out."
I know there are a lot of mindfulness meditation courses and teachers, but we can easily lose mindfulness when we become too focused on the method rather than the state of being. Although I find Jon Kabat-Zinn's work on mindfulness-based stress reduction to be an important contribution to Western society, you can find much simpler practices in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, The Miracle of Mindfulness on the Plum Village website (or other places).
This can be a difficult thing to do at first, but with practice, it becomes easier and more natural. Mindfulness allows you to "watch your mind" in a non-judgmental way, which can ultimately lead to greater self-awareness.
What Is Meditation?
To meditate is to focus on one's breath or a mantra to achieve a state of mindfulness. It's a form of self-care that's been around for centuries and has been practiced by people of all faiths.
Because I'm a trained yoga instructor, I've learned about meditation from the yoga tradition. It might also give a little more insight into what meditation is. The seventh limb described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is dhyana, which is about finding a mental connection (or absorption) to an object of concentration. The previous limb, called dharana, is concentration or focus on an object, which usually precedes dhyana. These two limbs can be interpreted to be what a meditation practice might look like in Western society.
During meditation, you may choose to sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed or focused on a certain point, like the flame of a candle. Some will focus on something inward, such as the space between your eyebrows (the ajna, or third eye chakra) or even their beating heart. Christian meditation might focus on God.
How Are Mindfulness and Meditation Different?
Mindfulness and meditation might seem like the same thing, but there are some key differences. First and foremost, mindfulness is about being present in the moment, while meditation is more about steadying the mind from chattering thoughts.
Meditation is about concentration, whereas mindfulness is about observation. Sure, with mindfulness you're concentrating on the present moment, which makes it a type of meditation. Mindfulness is about being open to a new, wandering path, and meditation is about the straight path.
Meditation might use a mantra or visualization technique to help you achieve a state of focus. Mindfulness is continually welcoming each new moment. Finally, mindfulness is about accepting things as they are, while meditation is often about working towards change.
Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation
You might be wondering why you should bother with mindfulness and meditation. Well, the benefits of these practices are pretty amazing.
Research has found that regular meditation can reduce stress levels, bring emotional balance and improved concentration. There is also evidence to suggest that it can reduce anxiety and depression, help with sleep problems, as well as improve overall wellbeing.
On the other hand, mindful focus and awareness can help us to observe our thoughts without judgment, as well as gain insight into our beliefs and behaviors. It can be an incredibly powerful tool to help us understand our motivations and intentions more deeply, as well as cultivate a sense of peace in our lives.
Ultimately, both meditation and mindfulness are ancient practices that have been around for thousands of years. They have been proven to not only help us manage difficult emotions but also live a healthier lifestyle – both mentally and physically.
The Importance of Practicing Both
It’s important to note that both mindfulness and meditation offer different benefits, so to truly experience the most benefits of both, you should practice both.
You can incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Whether it’s pausing to take a few deep breaths before making a decision or being aware of how you’re responding to external stimuli, there are countless opportunities throughout the day to practice being mindful.
Meditation can be a longer session where you make time and space to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. Meditation can help you cultivate deeper levels of concentration, emotional balance, and insight into yourself and the world around you.
No matter what practices you choose to engage in—meditation or mindfulness—the most important thing is that you find what works for you. So be kind to yourself as you explore these practices and find what works for you!
Tips to Help You Get Started With Mindfulness and Meditation
Now that you understand the differences between mindfulness and meditation, let's look at some tips to get you started.
It may also help to start with a guided meditation, either online or with an app. You can find my meditations on Insight Timer. This way, you can concentrate on the narrative rather than being distracted by your thoughts. And if that doesn't help, try using affirmations or mantras to direct your attention and bring yourself back to the present moment.
Finally, be sure to set aside a designated time for your practice each day - even if it's just for 10 minutes. Let those around you know you need this time and that it’s important to you. This is key because mindfulness and meditation require consistency in order to be effective.
So, what's the difference between mindfulness and meditation? In a nutshell, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of and present in the moment, while meditation is the practice of focusing the mind.
Both mindfulness and meditation can be beneficial in managing stress, anxiety, and pain, and can promote overall well-being. However, it's important to find a practice that works for you, and to be patient in reaping the benefits—mindfulness and meditation are skills that take time and practice to develop.