Updated: Aug 7
With the increased popularity of mindfulness and meditation around the world, these two words get used interchangeably, when in fact they do not mean the same thing. People may say they meditate every day, but it doesn’t mean they practise mindfulness meditation, and they could say they practice mindfulness throughout the day without truly being mindful at all.
Mindfulness can be practised in a meditation session and also in daily life; it is a quality of the mind. Focused meditation can include mindfulness but also affords many other types of practices.
The trouble with confusing the two terms is that you may be holding yourself back from achieving the full benefits of either if you do not fully understand what they mean.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a term that refers to any practice that is intended to formally train the mind. It’s an activity done in the pursuit of goals, just like going to the gym with the intention of running or lifting weights. Just as physical exercise leads to increased muscle mass or weight loss, meditation exercises can be used to cultivate certain mental qualities.
You may choose to meditate for different reasons: to cope better with stress and anxiety, to improve your focus, to become more productive, to gain a deeper knowledge of who you are, to generate insights into your mind, or to connect to something bigger than yourself. In essence, meditation is a service that helps you reach these goals.
Meditation has been part of many cultures and spiritual traditions over the years. It has taken many forms and been used with several different outcomes in mind. In Western culture, it has been adopted mainly as a method of relaxation. However, anyone who has looked deeper into formal practices of meditation will be aware of its extensive benefits to physical health, mental health, and overall quality of life.
Mantra meditation is the mode most commonly known to novices. You practise this style of meditation by repeating a mantra or short phrase while trying to connect with a different level of awareness or consciousness. If you find yourself getting distracted, you can use the word or phrase as an anchor to refocus your attention.
Another method is to just follow your breath. This is a more advanced meditation practice, but it can be a more effective way of drawing you into the present moment. This time the anchor is your breath: if your mind wanders, simply refocus on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is one part of meditation as well as a quality of the mind. It emerged from Buddhist traditions, and was brought to the west by academics. Probably the most popular definition is that proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme – MBSR. He said that mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
That means that mindfulness is a capacity of the mind to relate to whatever is happening in the now in an attentive and non-judgemental way.
Another definition, proposed by meditation teacher Shinzen Young, says that mindfulness is “a set of three attentional skills: concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity” all working together.
As we can see, both definitions emphasise the aspects of bringing our attention to the present moment and sensations, to see clearly what is happening at each moment while cultivating an attitude of acceptance and non-judgement in which we don’t label things as bad or good, desired or not desired.
Informal mindfulness practices encourage us to notice our bodily sensations in the moment of anxiety or fear. By giving ourselves time to take a breath and be mindfully aware of what is going on in our bodies, we can adjust our emotional reactivity and reduce our anxiety.
You can practice this set of skills anywhere and in whatever you’re doing, and although meditation is a great way to facilitate your efforts it is by no means the only way.
What Are the Health Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?
Many studies have uncovered a range of benefits to meditation and mindfulness-based interventions. These include relief of the following:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Labour pain anxiety
In addition, the research demonstrates the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation on stress levels. Fusing daily mindfulness and formal meditation practice can be a strong stress management tool. Alongside western medicine, mindfulness-based meditation allows you to decrease pain catastrophizing, and lessen the pain experience.
What Are the Differences Between Mindfulness and Meditation?
To begin this exploration, it is useful to look at a deep understanding for the two constructs. John Kabat-Zinn, one of the most popular Western writers on this topic, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
Compare this to a commonly used definition of meditation: “a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state”.
Mindfulness is a quality and meditation is a practice
While the definition of mindfulness describes a way of relating to oneself and one’s environment, meditation is seen as a formal practice meant to alter or enhance one’s state of mind. There are many definitions of each concept, but the differences are apparent: meditation is a practice, and through this practice, one can develop different qualities, including mindfulness.
Mindfulness describes a specific way of living that can be cultivated through practice. There are several ways to achieve mindfulness; meditative practices, and mindfulness meditation in particular, are just one way of doing this.
Meditation is a tool and mindfulness is what is achieved
Meditation is one method through which someone may learn to live mindfully. We can also think about meditation as a tool to develop mindfulness.
Meditation has proven to be highly effective in helping people be more mindful in their daily experiences. For example, those who practice mindfulness meditation, systematically and with discipline, find it easier to act mindfully in their everyday lives than those who do not.
Meditation is a way to plant the seeds of mindfulness and water them so that they grow throughout our lives. Although meditation is highly effective for this purpose, it is just one of the ways to cultivate mindfulness.
Mindfulness is self-awareness while meditation is self-transcendence
There are many benefits to both mindfulness and meditation, and many overlap as far as physical and mental health is concerned. Improved mindfulness is one of the major benefits of meditation. If your goal is to improve your self-awareness, both mindfulness and meditation can be helpful. Yet meditation offers an added experience of a profound state of stillness and bliss – the self-transcendence. This gives a deep rest to the mind, even deeper than deep sleep. This rest is what your frenzied mind may be seeking. It has been said that mindfulness is a doorway to meditation. While mindfulness brings you to the door of your home, meditation brings you home.
Mindfulness can be practised formally and informally
To meditate is a paradoxical thing, as it is an exercise of “non-doing.” Generally speaking, the work is to become an observer of one’s inner world, exerting minimal effort and adopting a stance of non-judgment.
These qualities are antithetical to the way that many of us live our lives: striving to get ahead and prioritising work over rest. Practising formal mindfulness, by sitting for a designated period, can provide a refuge from the busyness of the world and remind us that we do not need to work so hard to achieve our goals or be who we want to be.
Despite its many virtues, not everyone understands the benefits of engaging in formal mindfulness practice. However, these people can still be more mindful in their everyday lives while becoming familiar with meditation.
Luckily, there are many informal ways to practice mindfulness, such as mindful eating, mindful walking, or even mindful conversation. To practice mindfulness informally means to engage in everyday activities with the intention of being mindful.
This involves slowing down, paying attention, suspending judgement, and fully engaging in whatever experience is happening in the present moment.
Mindfulness is nurtured and meditation offers stillness and bliss
Mindfulness is an important part of meditation practice – it is grown in that process – but other factors make meditation special.
A vital quality of meditation is concentration. When deprived of external stimuli, such as in meditation, the mind can inevitably wander to a thousand unexpected places. When the mind is wandering, it is hard to maintain focus on the meditation practice at hand. That is when concentration is important. Training one’s attention to concentrate more fully allows for more successful and fulfilling meditation and potentially more mindfulness in one’s everyday life. It is through this concentration that one can achieve bliss.
Mindfulness is being aware of the mind and meditation is transcending the mind
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on being in the present moment. For example you might focus on eating a grape or apple, taking in its flavour, texture, and taste, being aware of every bite that you chew, and reducing the effects of whatever emotions are overpowering your mind.
By contrast, meditation is effortless transcendence of the mind and a connection with pure consciousness.
To transcend the mind means to go beyond all mental activity, all thoughts, sensations, and perceptions, to experience the silent or blissful state of the Self or the energy field within us. This transcendental state is also known as the fourth state of consciousness.
Mindfulness is active and meditation is no-mind
During mindfulness, the mind is focused, alert, active; you are actively watching the mind to ensure that you are fully present in the moment or with the activity that you are doing. If the mind drifts away, you bring it back to the activity you are engaging in, whether it is breathing, eating, drinking, walking, painting, or anything else. Basically, mindfulness keeps the mind engaged, usually on the surface level of the individual’s thought processes or activity. This tends to keep the mind active in the waking state of consciousness and does not effectively promote the transcending state of consciousness (the fourth state).
During meditation, the mind is expanded and becomes no mind. If the active mind is like waves on the surface of the ocean, then meditation is like diving into the silent underwater depths of the ocean, the wave merging with the ocean, becoming one with the ocean. The individual mind unites with the universal mind. The mind comes to a state of complete rest, yet remains fully alert. This state is described as a reservoir of unlimited energy, bliss, and intelligence — the essential nature of the mind, one's deepest, inner Self.
Mindfulness Vs. Meditation - Finding the Right Practice
Meditation is not a one-size-fits-all activity. There will always be one approach that fits your personality and current goals in life best, and this can change depending on where you are in your life. To find a practice that will best serve you, it’s important to first ask what you are looking for. Do you want to learn how to cope better with stress and anxiety? Do you want to increase your well-being? Do you want to get a deep insight into who you are and how your mind works? Or maybe you want to connect to something bigger than yourself, call it nature or the universe.
Once you have a clear goal of what you want your meditation practice to achieve, you can start exploring different styles. Choose a few to try out and give them time to determine if they have a positive impact on your life. There’s no right or wrong style, but there are those that will fit best your personality, your worldview, your stage in life and what you want out of meditation.
Practising mindfulness is a great tool to have and something that has been used in Buddhist practice for many centuries to help us cope with the challenges of life. You may choose to incorporate some elements of mindfulness into your meditation session.
Feel free to become creative with your routine. Each practice was developed for a specific reason, and your intention behind both can change daily. Even though it’s always best to practice consistency for lasting results, nothing is stopping you from practising concentration meditation daily while adding aspects of mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation when you feel they would benefit you. You will be able to set up your unique blend of structured meditation practices and mindfulness.
The relationship you build with mindfulness outside of your meditation routine can also be a great indicator of how well your meditation routine is working. If you begin to find mindful eating or walking more comfortable, this may be due to your success in your meditation practice. Through continued mindfulness practice and mindful meditation, you will be able to explore many other kinds of meditation that require mindfulness practice.
Meditation, Mindfulness, And Somatofulness
Somatofulness is an approach that emphasises the importance of accessing the body’s wisdom through mind-body activities such as meditation and mindfulness. Our bodies contain the essence of life, our literal life force.
By using meditative and mindfulness tools, you can be in tune with your body, listening to its messages, and using these messages to access your full potential and live the full complete life you are striving for. Through a series of workshops and programs, we will help you learn how to nurture this connection between your body and your mind.