Mindfulness and Meditation: What’s the Difference?

You’ve probably heard a lot recently about mindfulness – especially if you’re a regular reader / follower of my blog. The concept of mindfulness as a regular practice is popping up everywhere in self-help books, yoga and lifestyle magazines, and online courses as a way of living a better, healthier life.

You may also have noticed that people tend to use the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ pretty much interchangeably, but they are NOT exactly the same.

They are complementary and, in many ways, overlapping. Mindfulness can help ease you into a meditation practice and is an essential element of meditation. Both practices are fundamental techniques to develop your inner life, reduce stress, and become calmer.

But there’s a big difference between the two, and it’s a difference grounded in focus.

You might think of mindfulness as the opposite of multitasking. Doing something mindfully, whether it’s hiking your favorite mountain trail, driving your car or doing the dishes, means focusing your attention on every aspect of what you’re doing. It’s easy to let your mind drift when you’re doing an ordinary task and suddenly ‘come back.’

Mindfulness stops and notices what’s going on around you while you are in the moment – it’s externally focused. Mindfully walking means being aware of every step, how the ground feels under your foot, the smell and temperature of the air, the sounds of birdsong or wind in the treetops, how your body feels as you move through space. Mindfulness means being fully engaged with your senses and how they are interacting with the world.

Mindful living means giving your full attention to the person, situation, or task in front of you right now. It keeps you firmly grounded in the present moment. If you are living mindfully, your mind can’t stay stuck on past hurts, grievances, or events, and it can’t project your worries into the future because your full attention is taken up by the present. Life slows down and becomes more thoughtful, less reactive, calmer.

On the other hand, meditation takes a mindful approach and turns your attention inward. Meditation is the practice of finding peace within. It’s a more formal process than mindfulness and requires a physical and mental separation from what’s going on around you. You close your eyes, find a restful pose or take a seat in a restful area, and perhaps recite a mantra to help you focus and block out external stimuli.

When you meditate, you withdraw your attention from the outside world and focus on your inner world. You create a quiet space to detach and let your mind and body relax. Developing a meditation practice allows you to notice and observe your thoughts and feelings, thereby increasing your self-knowledge.

Mindfulness and meditation are separate but complementary practices that will help you create a happy, more relaxed life.

If you’re currently leading a busy, distracted life, starting with a mindfulness practice can help you prepare for the quiet of a meditation practice. Start where you are, with what you’ve got – just a few minutes a day (or several times a day) can help you to build up your mindfulness and meditation “muscles” and soon you’ll be incorporating these healthy practices into your every day life.