Meditation or mindfulness? What’s the difference anyway?

What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

The terms “meditation” and “mindfulness” are often used interchangeably correctly claiming to provide practitioners a vast range of mental, physical and psychological benefits. For example:

  • Greater inner peace, calm and sense of well-being
  • Improved immune system and overall health
  • Better focus, clarity and concentration
  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Improved relationships and social competence
  • Decreased stress, anxiety, depression, pain
  • Spiritual growth

Meditation and mindfulness have their roots in ancient traditions. Each has its own unique definition and purpose, although they complement each other and overlap in many ways.

The main differences between meditation and mindfulness:

Meditation encompasses the practice of reaching higher consciousness and the ability to focus. It’s also about finding inner peace and self regulation.There are many different methods that help us reach this heightened state of consciousness such as the practice of compassion, loving kindness, gratitude, patience and…mindfulness. Similar to yoga, breathing techniques, visualization and the practice of silence, mindfulness is a form of meditation.

Meditation came before the idea of mindfulness and is usually attributed to the time of the Buddha. It is told that this practice began when the Buddha discovered that focusing on his breath allowed him to swiftly reach a meditative state.

Meditation generally refers to the quieting of the mind that comes with sitting still and observing a single thought, the breath word, a phrase, the flicker of a candle, gazing into a mandala, etc. Usually meditation is practiced while sitting still for concentrated periods of time from a few minutes to hours…

Mindfulness on the other hand refers to awareness of ‘what is’ in the present moment—without judgement. For example, when eating an apple deliberately paying attention to this experience, noticing the fragrance, texture, temperature, color and taste. When outside thoughts intrude bring your attention back to the ‘apple’ experience. The object being to bring your focus back to the object or experience.

Eating a meal, washing the dishes, being in conversation with a friend are opportunities to practice mindfulness. Essentially mindfulness can be woven into any activity; whereas meditation is typically done in stillness. In both cases the result is being calmer, more focused and less frazzled. Inevitably when we can stay “in” the moment we’re in, rather than rehashing the past or fantasizing about what’s to come—we end up more relaxed and less reactive.

How could I really be in the present moment when I’m completely bombarded by thoughts all day long? My mind never seems to quiet down!

Bringing together meditation and mindfulness

1. One way of bringing together mindfulness and meditation is by sitting still in good form focusing on the breath. Repeat the words “in” and “out” to yourself with each inhalation and exhalation. This is a common form of meditation.

Just begin with a few minutes a day and see how your practice goes. You might find that although challenging to get started, once you do that these few silent moments have a tremendous positive impact on the rest of your day.

2. Focusing on the breath while engaged in an activity is a way of facilitating mindfulness into whatever you are doing. The breath focus brings you into the present enabling you to bring your attention to whatever it is that you wish to be more mindful about.

For example, when you’re at a meeting—be at the meeting fully and notice the many reactions that you have to others, the space, your thoughts etc. When you notice yourself being critical, encourage yourself to become curious. Continue to bring your attention back to your direct experience, observations, bodily sensations, etc. You can do this while cleaning your house or driving the children to their activities.

You may notice that with these practices that when you are relaxed you are more awake to your experiences. Also, when you are relaxed you cannot be stressed. This is known as an incompatible response. Ultimately as you become more skilled at meditation and mindfulness so that you override the negativity and noise in your head.

Whether practicing mindfulness or meditation or both—your psychological, physical, mental and relational health are bound to improve significantly.

Over time with practice you’ll likely notice yourself becoming more insightful, reflective and observant to the scenarios of your life, rather than being harsh and judgmental. This is a happier and healthier path for you as well as for the people whose lives you impact.

What small shift in your life can you make today to get your practice of meditation and mindfulness ignited—even in some small way?

As always I’d love to hear from you about your experiences practicing the meditation and mindfulness. Feel free to ask any questions you may have and to share your thoughts.



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