The terms mindfulness and meditation are often used together, which leads some people to believe that they are interchangeable. In actuality, this is not the case.
Though the two practices are certainly linked and can be used together, they are actually quite different. Below, we’ll discuss the definition of both of these practices and how they compare.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation can mean many things to different people. But most often, it is a quiet, daily practice that is used 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 certainly do not have to be religious to meditate. The traditional definition of meditation practice comes from Buddhism. In Buddhism, meditation is the main part of achieving “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 (or in a chair or on the ground) for at least a few minutes every day. 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.
A timer may be set to measure the amount of time the practitioner will be in meditation. The location can be anywhere, but many choose to meditate in a quiet space.
What’s going on in the practitioner’s mind and consciousness is what is most important about meditation. Again, there are no rules. But generally, 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 allowing their mind to dictate the focus of the meditation.
And herein lies the reason why many people meditate: it calms the mind and helps you to organize your “monkey-like” thoughts. In traditional Buddhist meditation, no thought it “bad,” and no thought should be banished. But meditation allows for a time to hone your concentration skills and actually see the thoughts and emotions that are filling your consciousness on a daily basis.
Buddhist monks or serious practitioners may stay in meditation 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 also similar to the goal of meditation: to calm, organize, and focus the mind. It is also meant to help practitioners focus on the present moment.
The idea behind this is that our minds go a mile a minute. They are constantly flitting 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 essentially miss out on our own lives.
Whereas meditation practice touches on this idea as well, mindfulness is slightly more proactive. That’s because you can continue living your normal life while also 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 do notice this, you are to bring your attention back to the present moment, and continue on what 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.