For those who may be new to mindfulness and meditation, the information out there can be contradictory at best and confusing a lot of the time. So, what do these concepts refer to, are they one and the same thing or are they different, and why should you even bother knowing them? In this post, we will unpack what those two terms refer to and discuss why you would be well advised to integrate both into your life.
Definition of mindfulness
There is a definition galore when you look up mindfulness, and those different and nuanced ways of defining this term are partly responsible for the confusion and lack of clarity about what mindfulness is all about.
To keep it simple, look at mindfulness as the state of being in the moment, fully aware and involved in what is happening right now. For example, if you are having a meal mindfully, you will notice the different colors, observe the shapes, feel each food item you put into your mouth, hear the sounds made as you chew the different items, and so on. You are immersed in what you are doing, and your five senses are processing all the sensory input while you have your meal. You are exercising mindfulness while you eat.
Contrast that with someone who is eating while having a heated argument with their spouse on the phone. Such a person will hardly notice the taste of the food, let alone register what it smells like or even notice what it looks like. This person isn’t in a state of mindfulness while they eat because they are here (at the dinner table) but their mind is almost wholly engrossed in the heated exchange over the phone.
What is meditation?
Meditation is an activity or a practice that is geared at attaining a set objective. For example, you may decide to meditate in order to improve your mindfulness. In this case, you are doing something in order to attain a desired state/quality.
Many types of meditation exist to correspond with the different objectives that people may have. These include guided meditation, breathing meditation, mantra-focused meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and so many others.
How Does Meditation Differ from Mindfulness?
- Mindfulness is a state, meditation is an activity
As already mentioned, mindfulness is a state of mind in which one is fully aware of and engrossed by what they are doing. If you are talking to a loved one, you exclude all else and are fully aware of the interaction happening. If you are reading or watching a movie, you are fully in the moment and aren’t paying attention to anything else.
In contrast, meditation is an activity that you do in order to attain a desired goal. For example, you can meditate in order to calm down your mind or you can meditate in order to address the stress you are experiencing.
- Meditation is an avenue to mindful living
Another way to distinguish mindfulness from meditation is that meditation is one of the ways through which you can live mindfully. We mentioned that there is a type of meditation called mindfulness meditation, remember?
When you meditate regularly, you increase your ability to live mindfully without being engrossed in the past or worrying about the future. Meditation can help you to focus on the present, especially if you choose the types of meditation which promote mindfulness.
- Meditation requires focused time, while mindfulness isn’t so exacting
By its very nature, meditation requires you to dedicate a given window of time in order to engage in it. For example, you may need to block out 15 minutes to sit still in a quiet room and meditate. The duration can be longer or shorter depending on your specific needs and how experienced you are at meditating. In short, it is a bit of a stretch to expect that you will catch some meditation during a meeting!
However, mindfulness can easily be integrated into your everyday activities. For example, you can exercise mindfulness while walking your dog, just as you can be in a state of mindfulness while making a presentation at your place of work.
- Mindfulness is an aspect of meditation
This is where things get a little confusing for some people, resulting in their failure to draw a distinction between meditation and mindfulness. In order to meditate, you need to cultivate a state of mindfulness.
For example, if you are meditating to improve your breathing, you need to focus on your breath. Such focus is mindfulness. You will notice the air getting into your lungs, and then come out through your mouth. You will notice how your chest is rising and falling as you breathe. You will notice how different parts of your body feel while you breathe in, and out. You will observe or be aware of how different muscle groups participate in the act in breathing.
As you can see, meditation is not possible if mindfulness is absent. In this regard, meditation boosts mindfulness, and mindfulness is vital to meditation.
Now that we have brought some clarity to the ways in which mindfulness and meditation differ or are related, let us turn our attention to the reasons why you need to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your life. The benefits include;
- Boosting your immune response
- Slowing down your heart rate
- Slowing down the rate at which cognitive decline and brain aging occur
- Decreasing your pain response to stimuli
- They boost compassion and kindness toward yourself and others
- Helping in the management of stress, anxiety and depression
- Boosting overall mental wellness
Your life and sense of wellbeing will improve a great deal if you make an effort to make mindfulness and meditation integral to your life. Remember to keep your “why” in mind and then pick meditation types suited to your unique needs. Over time, the benefits will start showing and you will wonder why you took so long to get started!
To Your Success,