IN OUR increasingly busy and hyper-connected lives, it seems we are forever tiptoeing around the threat of burnout. If the global pandemic taught us anything, it’s that our mental health is no longer something to be pushed to the periphery. Just as we make time to schedule in a lunchtime workout or pre-date pump-up in the gym, so too should we be making time to flex our brain.
As more people look to their mental health as a part of their daily routine, the terms mindfulness and meditation have become popular activities. But like buzz words thrown around in a sales pitch, the terms are used interchangeably when the reality is there are marked differences between the two. Mindfulness refers to a specific way of living that is cultivated through practice. Meanwhile, meditation is a practice—one that can be used to live mindfully (hence the overlap). Things can get even more confusing when you consider different categories of meditative practices, like that of ‘mindfulness meditation’ where you focus on the present moment without judgment.
Though the terms might be trending online with everyone from celebrities to fitness influencers and CEO’s extolling the virtues of both mindfulness and meditation, it helps to know the key differences between the two. Despite the crossover, understanding both terms will only serve to help you work out which best meets your needs. So, if you’re looking to start your wellness journey or get back on the meditation train, here are the key differences to keep in mind.
Meditation is a practice
The key difference between mindfulness and meditation is that the latter is a practice focused on connecting mind and body, with the intention of enhancing your state of mind. Through meditation, you can develop qualities like mindfulness, but it’s not a way of living that something like mindfulness can be described as.
Unlike meditation, mindfulness is a skill and one you can use throughout the day. It doesn’t require a confined space or time for you to engage in mindfulness, rather you can find yourself living mindfully in various activities throughout the day.
Meditation can help you live more mindfully
While meditation might not be a permanent state you exist in, it can help you achieve mindfulness and incorporate it into your daily life more effectively. Through the practice of meditation, you learn to focus on the present, letting go of emotion and any negative thoughts. You can also practice mindfulness meditation, which sees you concentre on the present moment, free of any judgement or criticism. This is a great way to have your mind and body adjust to living more mindfully as you look to make it a fixture in your lifestyle.
You don’t need to practice mindfulness formally
The practice of meditation by its very nature requires individuals to exercise “non-doing.” Though you might not have a private room adorned with plush cushions and burning incense when you meditate, chances are you’re still doing the formal practice of sitting for a designated period and focusing on your breath and thoughts.
However, as most of us can attest, sometimes life has the tendency to get in the way. We over-commit, struggle to push back on competing work deadlines, stuff those remaining hours of free time with social events and suddenly find ourselves unable to make the time to meditate. That’s where mindfulness comes in, as it allows everyone to be mindful in their everyday lives however they choose, wherever they want. This might look like practising mindful eating, or tuning into your feelings when you find yourself stuck in a thought spiral at work. Though it might not look like a formal practice, you’re ultimately engaging in everyday activities with the intention of being mindful.
You don’t need to meditate to be mindful
Though there can be an overlap between the two, you don’t need to practice meditation to appreciate the benefits of mindfulness. If you’re looking to deepen your capacity for mindfulness, there are a number of activities you can do. Consider paying attention to various sensations while outside, admiring a pet or loved one, switching off all distractions during your next meal as you focus on each bite and savour the flavours. Ultimately, the list is endless as mindfulness can be incorporated into your life at any time and anywhere.
Meditation requires focus
Whether it’s a guided, movement-based, or visual meditation, the practice requires intense focus. With meditation, the goal is to achieve an altered state of consciousness that connects individuals to a deeper inner self, so unlike mindfulness which can be done anywhere, anytime, meditation will require time set aside for concentrated effort.
Which one is right for you?
The goal with mindfulness is to become more present and aware of your surroundings, free of judgement. For those experiencing negative thoughts, it’s a particularly useful strategy and can help you feel less judgemental and critical, particularly given that it can be practiced at any time. Unlike meditation, you don’t need to stop what you’re doing to engage in mindfulness or leave the office to find a room in which you can sit by yourself. Instead, mindfulness can be practiced on the go and at any time. For those who might be stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, mindfulness is a great strategy to employ, particularly due to its accessibility.
Meditation looks to see individuals enter an altered state, one where their mind and body are connected to bring mental and physical peace. Unlike mindfulness, it’s not something you can do on the go. You do need to set time aside for your meditation practice, as it requires deep concentration. Of course, the length of your session and goal can vary considerably, so you might find it easier to make time for your meditation with a shorter session.
How to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your routine?
Whether you have the capacity to devote a set amount of time to meditation, or are simply looking to be more mindful as you go about your daily routine, these practices deserve attention. If you’re short on time, even going so far as to focus on your five senses while going about an activity like doing the dishes, making a cup of coffee, or walking the dog, can go a long way to making you more present and attune with your feelings.
When it comes to meditation, it’s best to start small as you gradually learn to train your focus. Typically, those new to meditation should start out with no more than five to 10 minutes a day. You can also try guided meditation on a run or walk, where you’re encouraged to develop techniques to help you understand the basics of the practice. This can be a better alternative for those who find it hard to engage with silent meditation, where you focus solely on physical sensations. Regardless of how long you spend meditating or how frequently you incorporate mindfulness, any small amount is beneficial.