Practicing mindfulness and meditation is one of the most popular techniques that can help improve mental well-being and increase clarity. Furthermore, research supports them as effective therapies to treat various mental wellness issues like stress, anxiety, and depression. The terms mindfulness and meditation are often used together, leading some people to believe they are interchangeable. This is not the case. Though the two practices are certainly linked and can be used together, they are quite different. Below, we’ll discuss the difference between mindfulness and meditation, what they can do for you, and the best way to begin your meditation or mindfulness practice.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation can mean many things to different people. But most often, people use it as a quiet, daily practice for relaxation, contemplation, concentration, and/or religious purposes. As we wrote earlier, meditation practice was proven to reduce the risk of depression and even cancer.
Many religions meditate, but you do not have to be religious. The traditional meaning of meditation practice comes from Buddhism. In Buddhism, meditation is the main part of completing “Enlightenment” or “Nirvana,” the highest state of understanding that allows someone to see the true nature of all things.
Meditation does not necessarily have hard-and-fast rules. But most traditional meditation practices involve sitting on a meditation cushion (in a chair or on the ground) for at least a few minutes daily. The practitioner sits up straight and may have their eyes closed or partly open. Often, the hands are palms-up or in one of the numerous specialized positions on the knees or in the lap. The practitioner may set a timer to measure the amount of time in meditation. The location can be anywhere, but many meditate in a quiet space.
What’s going on in the practitioner’s mind and consciousness is most important about meditation. Again, there are no rules. But normally, the practitioner will have a “mantra” (an anchor word or phrase) that they will focus on during their meditation. This will help them to concentrate on one thing instead of letting their mind dictate the focus of the meditation.
And herein lies why many people meditate: it calms the mind and helps you to contain your “monkey-like” thoughts. Traditional Buddhist meditation does not banish any thoughts, good or bad. But meditation allows for a time to hone your concentration skills and see the thoughts and emotions filling your consciousness daily.
Buddhist monks or serious practitioners may meditate for hours or even days at a time — only stopping to eat, go to the bathroom, and stretch a few times. Layman practitioners may meditate every morning for 5 to 10 minutes. Again, there are no set-in-stone rules.
What Is Mindfulness?
Unlike meditation, mindfulness is not a separate activity. If you want, you can practice mindfulness all day while working, reading, socializing, eating, exercising, or doing any other activity. Like meditation, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism. However, you do not have to be a Buddhist to practice it.
The goal of mindfulness is similar to meditation: to calm, manage, and focus the mind. It also helps practitioners focus on the present moment.
The idea behind this is that our minds go a mile a minute. They constantly flit from one thought, idea, emotion, or feeling to another. And in many ways, this begins when we’re very young and doesn’t stop until death, meaning we miss out on our own lives.
While meditation touches on this idea, mindfulness is slightly more proactive. That’s because you can continue living your normal life while honing your ability to focus on the present.
Mindfulness is a practice that cultivates this by encouraging you to notice when you begin thinking about the future or the past. When you notice this, you are to bring your attention back to the present moment and continue whatever task you are working on — putting your focus there.
Both meditation and mindfulness can be extremely enriching practices for your life. Try them each for just a few minutes a day and see how they benefit you.
Where do mindfulness and meditation come from?
The roots of these techniques are diverse. Writers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, and Thich Nhat-Hanh adopted mindfulness, which originated in the Buddhist tradition. Meditation was a part of India’s Vedic and yogic traditions and is a part of Hinduism that dates back to the 1700s and 1100s BCE. Later, other types of meditation were developed within Buddhism and Taoism, mostly in India and China. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Gurudev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Deepak Chopra, and many other renowned meditation instructors introduced it in the West.
In the past, the goal of meditation was the ultimate release (or the attainment of nirvana) or spiritual development, in addition to letting the mind be in an enlightened state of absolute harmony and balance. Meditation is not an alternative to meditation. Since its introduction to the West during the late 20th century. Meditation was changed and categorized to fit the needs of modern, secular society — and it has become a well-established method to ease anxiety, stress, and chronic pain. It also helps enhance your general health, both mental and physical well-being.
In the words of Medical Daily, when meditation developed after the move to the West. It evolved into an expansive broad term that covers gaining ultimate consciousness, which is the ability to transcend the mind, improve concentration, recognize the mind, and self-regulate it. It could involve various techniques or methods to achieve this higher state of consciousness, including compassion and love, patience, and mindfulness. Therefore, mindfulness is now considered a form of meditation. It is also associated with mantra and tantra, silent breath, and emptiness. But mindfulness on its own does not an alternative to meditation.
Other Kinds of Meditation that you can Do
Although they don’t necessarily fall within the standard notion of meditation according to yoga texts. The internet lists these under the umbrella of meditation:
- Meditation on mindfulness
- Spiritual meditation
- Meditation with a focus (like Vipassana meditation)
- Meditation for insight
- Walking or moving meditation
- Meditation guided by a guide (Try one today!)
- Vedic and Mantra Meditation (like the Sahaj Samadhi meditation and transcendental meditation)
- Progressive relaxation
- Meditation on loving-kindness
- The practice of meditation through visualization and guided imagery.
- Meditation on breathing (like Sky Breath Meditation)
- Meditation on Hollow and Empty
Numerous types of meditation are available at these times, each with distinct characteristics and particular methods that guide the meditation practitioner in various directions of self-development. Choosing a meditation technique and establishing a meditation practice requires a clear understanding of the goals one is seeking to achieve and a clear appreciation of the benefits each kind of meditation can offer. This article was written to clarify the process to help you start or continue your process of achieving your own goal of mindfulness and meditation. I’ve tried a few of these and have briefly explained them in this article.
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Knowing the difference between these terms is important to maximize the potential of both practices. Mindfulness is a skill that allows the mind to remain calm and resilient in a wide range of activities. This gives us the freedom to add quality to any action we choose. Whether we meet with clients, drive home from work, or ski-diving down a mountain face doesn’t matter. Mindfulness keeps us sharp and present. Our presence is the only place we can access the well-studied flow state. This is a concrete experience. It isn’t a mental model. It’s a planned activity to increase mindfulness and exercise it. Meditation is the key to greater mindfulness.
Meditation is no different from physical strength training for muscles and endurance. Still, it’s also a way for our minds to strengthen our presence, handle emotions, and achieve the ever-elusive flow state. Meditation helps us to practice mindfulness and makes it easier to bring that awareness into every decision, experience, and action we have. These are the benefits of having a mindful intention in every aspect of your life.
Rick Kaselj MS, is a leading kinesiologist and injury specialist as well as co-creator of the best-selling Unlock Your Hip Flexors program. Rick creates exercise programs that help people heal injuries and eliminate pain, so they can go back to living a full, active, healthy life.