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Mindfulness vs. Meditation: What’s the Difference?

Confused about the difference between mindfulness and meditation? You're not alone!

It seems like every corner of the Internet is shouting the praises of mindfulness and meditation. Whether it’s celebrities swearing by Transcendental meditation or motivational speakers encouraging mindfulness practices, these two ideas are entering the mainstream like never before!

But what’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Maybe you’ve seen people using these words interchangeably. Or maybe you’ve seen articles or books about “mindful meditation,” which makes it even more confusing when trying to separate out which is which!

Mindfulness

Think of this as bringing awareness to the present moment. That might mean focusing on a specific part of your body, like the soles of your feet or the tips of your fingers. It might mean focusing on your breath: concentrating on the inhale for three counts, then focusing on the exhale for three counts.

Maybe it’s being aware of sensations in your body. Think of how often we sit at a desk, staring at our computers, holding tension in our neck and shoulders! Even while writing this, I’m aware of stiffness in my shoulders, that I’ve been hunching forward slightly. I’m writing this after a large lunch, so I’m experiencing a sensation of fullness. A car is passing by on the street outside my house.

Notice all of the physical sensations your body is experiencing.

The other component of mindfulness is non-judgment. It means being aware of what’s going on in the present moment and viewing it through a lens of acceptance and non-judgement.

It’s bigger than those minutes you spend meditating in the morning. Mindfulness is a way of being in the world. It’s not limited to a morning or evening session, but instead happens throughout the day. Think big-picture stuff.

For me, this means viewing all of my observations without judgement. Right now, I’m not judging the fact that I ate too much at lunch and now feel uncomfortably full. I’m not annoyed at the sounds of the traffic outside. I’m simply aware of them.

Turn your attention to what’s going on in the present moment right now as you’re reading this. Your surroundings, physical sensations, any emotions you might be feeling. Don’t judge them, simply observe.

Meditation

While mindfulness can be practiced while doing other activities (eating, walking, etc.), meditation is typically practiced on its own. There are many, many varieties of meditation, and some of them are familiar even to people who don’t meditate.

Transcendental meditation, for example, is a specific practice of mantra meditation that is learned from a trained TM instructor. The specifics of meditation vary from practice to practice, so it’s difficult to generalize, but basically meditation is a technique to transform the mind. To quiet it, or at least attempt to. To get in touch with your mind and patterns of thinking. 

There are meditation apps that provide guided meditations. You may have done a guided meditation to help you sleep, or maybe you’ve taken a class and meditated with a teacher. The act of sitting in stillness is usually what people think of when they picture meditation.

Mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, deepen intuition, and sharpen the mind-body connection. No matter which option you choose, it’s a great practice to add to your daily routine!

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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