If you’ve looked into any relaxation, self-help, or personal development resources, you’ve probably come across the terms “mindfulness” and “meditation.” While some people use the words interchangeably, they have different meanings. They also involve distinct types of practices. So what’s the difference, and how can you practice both?
Mindfulness is awareness. It often involves tuning your mind into something, whether it’s the actions that you’re taking at the moment or the stillness that you notice within and around you.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere and anytime. You don’t have to close your eyes, get into a relaxed state, or quiet your body. Instead, mindfulness implies that you have a certain level of engagement with what you are doing.
In other words, you’re taking action, and you’re paying attention to it. That doesn’t just mean that you’re thinking about what you’re doing. Mindfulness involves using all of your senses to immerse yourself in the experience.
How to Practice Mindfulness
There are thousands of ways to practice mindfulness. However, what they all have in common is that they encourage you to pay attention.
One way to start being more mindful is to bring your attention to your sensations. The next time you’re doing something relatively mundane, such as brushing your teeth or washing the dishes, take a moment to tap into your five senses. Ask yourself:
- How does this feel?
- Where do I feel the most or least sensation?
- What do I taste?
- Is there a scent to this activity?
- What does this activity sound like?
- What do I see?
Don’t judge the responses. It doesn’t matter if something tastes good or bad. Just notice the “what.” Encourage yourself to continue to concentrate on your sensations as you continue with the activity.
The Beginner’s Mind
When you wake up one morning, decide that you’re going to approach the day with a beginner’s mind. Try to look at the world with fresh eyes, as though everything is new. Use your imagination, pretending that you’re an alien on this planet or a newborn infant.
As you do this, you’ll be so curious that you can’t help but pay attention to sensations, words, and energies. This practice helps you observe more and judge less. You’ll notice that your curiosity takes over, and your judgments sit back a bit.
When people talk about meditation, they’re usually referring to a seated practice that involves softening the vision, relaxing the body, and quieting the mind. There are many different types of meditation, though. They don’t always involve sitting and relaxing.
For example, you can engage in walking meditation. You can practice mindfulness meditation when you’re involved in certain activities, such as washing dishes or showering.
But meditation usually has to do with going inward. It helps you find peace within yourself. You become more aware of that peace as you quiet your thoughts. Meditation can help you develop a strong sense of inner wisdom and connect you with your intuition.
How to Practice Meditation
As with mindfulness, there are a number of ways to practice meditation. You don’t have to do anything fancy to begin.
Here are the steps for an absolute beginner:
- Get in a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
- Take slow, steady breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale.
- Allow your body to release tension with every exhale.
- Continue to focus on your breath.
- If you notice your attention start to drift or thoughts enter your brain, don’t judge yourself; just gently guide your awareness back to your breath.
- Do this for 3 to 5 minutes. As you get more comfortable with the practice, you can extend the length of time.
There are several other forms of meditation that you might want to explore. We go over a few of them below.
When you practice mantra meditation, you focus on a particular sound, word, or phrase. Some of the common mantras that are used in meditation are:
- Ohm or om
- So ham
- I am that I am
- I change my thoughts; I change my world
Use any mantra that means something to you. You can also choose to hum a sound that doesn’t mean anything. Doing this can help you avoid getting caught up in thought processes surrounding the mantra.
When you do a guided meditation, you follow someone’s voice as they lead you through the process. Many beginners prefer guided meditations to unguided ones. It’s easier to focus on the meditation when you simply have to concentrate on another person’s voice. Plus, that voice will give you suggestions for how to relax, how to hold your body, what to do if you get distracted, and other important elements of the practice.
Once you are comfortable with guided meditations, you can try practicing without the voice. Some people still choose to play relaxing music or healing sounds when they meditate.
Focused meditation gives you something to concentrate on as you quiet your mind and body. You might stare at a candle, listen to a gong, count mala beads, visualize something, or concentrate on part of your body. Samatha meditation is a version of focused meditation that observes the breath as the focal point. The goal is to keep your concentration on the target.
In focused meditation, you don’t have to think about stopping your thoughts. If you’re truly mindful with your awareness, your thoughts won’t play a role in the practice.
That’s easier said than done, though. If you notice that you become distracted as you perform this meditation, gently bring your attention back to the target. The more you do this without judging yourself for it, the easier it will become.
Open Awareness Meditation
Open awareness meditation is almost the opposite of focused meditation. Instead of directing your attention toward a particular target, you allow it to expand, taking everything in. The idea is to remain open to every sensation and experience.
Although you may perceive what happens, don’t cling to it. Allow yourself to become a nonjudgmental observer. You might watch your physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, or memories. It’s ok if you don’t feel still. It’s ok if you’re bombarded with thoughts.
You are the witness, and these are just experiences in your life. They don’t define who you are.
Open awareness meditation can easily transition into effortless presence meditation. As you get used to sitting with yourself, you might notice that your thoughts naturally fall away. You might experience more calmness of mind.
When you reach a state of quiet awareness, you can stay there for as long as you want. As you gain more experience with this, you might be able to draw upon the sense of calmness in other areas of your life.
Some people call the Ho’oponopono a prayer. Others simply refer to it as a forgiveness method. But you can practice it as a type of mantra meditation.
Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian word that means “to make right.” It’s part of Huna, an ancient shamanic healing tradition.
The idea is that the person performing the meditation offers forgiveness to others and themselves. In doing so, they allow any preconceived perceptions of the relationship to fall away, making room for new connections. As you forgive others, you become right with yourself.
To perform this meditation, you draw upon the strong powers of love, gratitude, repentance, and forgiveness. After you’ve become relaxed, repeat the phrase, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.”
It doesn’t matter what order you use to express each power. Sometimes, you might do this meditation and feel intense emotions bubbling up. Other times, you might run through the words as though they’re an incomprehensible chant.
There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Do what works for you.
Loving Kindness Meditation
The loving kindness, or Metta, meditation is similar to the Ho’oponopono. It produces compassion for yourself and others.
To do it, get into a relaxed, comfortable position. Begin your meditation by focusing on your breath. As you quiet your mind, you can begin to repeat the following phrases, as though you’re saying them to yourself:
- May I be happy.
- May I be well.
- May I be safe.
- May I be peaceful and at ease.
Do your best to connect to the intentions of the words. Allow any emotions that come with the words to flow through you. Observe them without judgment. It’s ok if you experience some unexpected emotions, such as anger, grief, or resentment.
After you’ve repeated the process a few times for yourself, picture someone who you love deeply. Repeat the meditation for them.
Finally, imagine a person who has hurt you in some way. Repeat the meditation for them.
You can continue for as long as you’d like, practicing the meditation for different people in your life.
Yoga is a popular form of movement meditation. It allows you to shift energy through the body as you quiet your mind. It does involve mindfulness—you have to be aware of your body. But yoga isn’t the only type of movement meditation.
Other kinds include:
- Tai Chi
- Forest bathing
- Dance meditation
Any physical activity in which you’re slowly and intentionally moving the body can be considered a movement meditation. For some people, jogging and gardening have the same effects.
Transcendental meditation is similar to a mantra meditation. It’s an effortless way to get into meditating. Because it doesn’t require you to clear your thoughts, empty your mind, or concentrate, even a child can practice it.
The technique does require you to repeat a mantra silently. However, the technique is very specific. It’s taught by certified instructors and is extremely structured.
It doesn’t matter what type of meditation you practice. You don’t have to learn every style. Instead, stick to what works best for you. Consistency will help you develop a habit that makes a difference in your life.
What Are the Similarities Between Mindfulness and Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation are both intentional practices that have their foundations in ancient Eastern spiritual traditions. They don’t always come naturally because our minds are used to pondering every thought that runs through them. We’re not used to quieting down and observing our internal and external states.
Mindfulness and meditation overlap in many ways, including the following.
Mindfulness and meditation both involve noticing. When you’re meditating, you can bring your awareness to the external world. You might focus on the sensations in your body and on your skin. You can direct your attention outward, noticing the sounds that you hear outside the room that you’re in.
When you practice mindfulness, you also notice what’s going on. But you put less effort into quieting your mind completely and more effort into paying attention to your inner and outer world. You might bring awareness to your thoughts, emotions, movements, and actions. You can also direct your attention to the people and energies around you.
The aim of both of these practices is to observe without judgment. How often do you judge and label your experiences? Even when you’re meditating, you might have the feeling that you’re not doing it well, or you’re having trouble focusing. Then, you get down on yourself for it. That’s being judgmental.
With meditation and mindfulness, you’re asked to set aside those opinions and judgments. You are who you are, and your experience is what it is. There is no need to control your emotions or label what you’re feeling.
Become an intentional observer that simply watches the world inside you and around you.
Meditation and mindfulness both calm the mind. They allow you to separate yourself from the thoughts that can take over your brain.
Think about what happens when you drive to work in the morning. You probably don’t have to worry about the route that you take because you’ve assimilated that into your subconscious. However, your brain is probably tied up in thought. You might be thinking about what you’re going to eat for lunch, how many things are on your to-do list, how nervous you are for a conference call, when you need to pick up the kids after school, and what you’re planning to do over the weekend.
These thoughts come to you in rapid-fire patterns, and they can be relentless. You get to work and realize that you don’t actually remember looking at the road.
If that has happened to you, then you could use a dose of mindfulness. When you practice mindfulness, instead of working yourself up by thinking about all of your concerns and anxieties, your mind stays calm. You’re able to focus on the road, and the stillness is peaceful.
The same can happen during meditation. Except that instead of focusing on the road, you concentrate on a mantra, your inner energy, or another physical or ethereal element. While you’re meditating, if you do have thoughts that enter your head, you simply watch them come and go. You don’t hold onto them, and you don’t try to analyze them.
While observing your inner self without judgment, you calm the mind. Imagine what would happen if you had a distressing or worrisome thought but didn’t latch onto it. You would just allow it to travel through you, and it wouldn’t cause a reaction. That’s what mindfulness and meditation can do for you.
What Are the Differences Between Mindfulness and Meditation?
One of the primary differences between mindfulness and meditation is that mindfulness involves awareness of the external world, while meditation allows you to notice your internal state. Of course, you can meditate on something external, and you can be mindful of your inner thoughts and feelings. Do you see how the overlap between mindfulness and meditation can be confusing?
Mindfulness is usually described as a practice that you can assimilate into your life so that it becomes effortless. While meditation can be effortless after you practice it for some time, it’s more of an activity. You can’t do it everywhere. For example, it wouldn’t be a good idea to meditate while driving, but you could certainly be mindful.
With meditation, there is a certain level of letting go that has to happen. You surrender your conscious experience and sink into yourself. Although some types of meditation require you to focus on your senses, your ability to feel tends to fall away when you’re meditation.
On the other hand, mindfulness requires you to maintain an awareness of your sensations. There is still an element of surrender because you relinquish your ties to your thoughts and surrender to feelings and observation. However, when you’re mindful, you’re usually fully engaged in the physical and present moment.
You might wonder if there is a difference between mindfulness and concentration. These two aspects of your psyche work together, but they’re not identical. Both play a role in meditation.
Concentration often involves forcing yourself to keep your awareness steady. It’s a skill that you can develop. It involves willpower. It’s a little vigorous and demanding.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is more delicate. Although it is also a proficiency that you can develop, you can’t force it.
Concentration allows you to develop mindfulness. Once you’ve become adept with your mindfulness practice, you’ll find that it’s welcomed into your life, and you don’t have to force it. In fact, mindfulness is dulled by struggle. If you force yourself into it, you’ll end up reducing your ability to go there.
What About Mindfulness Meditation?
As you research more about mindfulness and meditation, you might come across a specific practice that’s called mindfulness meditation. This can be confusing if you don’t understand what it is. As we discussed above, there are various forms of meditation. Some are designed to enhance mindfulness.
Therefore, some people consider a mindfulness practice to be a type of meditation.
One of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness meditation is to begin in your usual meditation position. Make sure that it’s quiet, and you don’t have distractions around you.
Pay attention to your breath. As you keep your awareness there, notice the feeling of the air entering and exiting your body. Notice whether it has a temperature. Allow your sensation to drift to the feeling in your throat, nasal passageways, and nostrils.
Expand your perception so that you feel other tactile stimuli. Perhaps you feel the breeze on your skin or the cool temperature of the air. Maybe you sense the clothing against your body.
If you have any aches or pains, notice those too. Bring your attention to them, but don’t dwell there. Allow yourself to observe the feelings without judgment.
Use your other senses, gradually incorporating them into the meditation. Notice what your ears pick up. Feel your emotions. As usual, don’t judge what comes up. Simply become a mindful observer.
A body scan meditation is similar to the practice explained above. However, it directs you to witness more of the internal sensations in your body.
To do it, get into a relaxed position. Beginning at your toes, notice any feelings that you have in every body part. Move up incrementally, to the balls of your feet, your arches, your heels, the tops of your feet, the ankles, and so on.
If you experience what you might label as a negative feeling, such as pain or tension, acknowledge that you are aware of it and move on.
Another way to do a mindfulness meditation is to go for a walk. This isn’t an ordinary walk that you’d take with your dog or a friend. Go by yourself, and set an intention to practice mindfulness meditation as you move.
Begin by taking slow steps. Feel the ground under your soles. Notice how your weight feels in your feet, ankles, legs, pelvis, and abdomen. Bring your attention to the way your weight shifts as you move your next foot to the front.
Do this for about 10 steps, really noticing what happens in your body as you do so. Then, you can continue with your slow, steady pace. You might want to hold your arms at your sides while you walk, with your palms facing forward. This allows you to receive energy from nature, spirit, and the universe.
You can pay attention to your breath, but really try to be mindful of your footsteps. As you continue to walk, you can gradually shift your awareness. What do you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell? Keep your focus on your sensations as you continue with the meditation.
What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation have several health benefits.
Benefits of Mindfulness
According to a Harvard study, a wandering mind is not a happy one. While they’re awake, people spend about 47% of their time thinking about something different than what they’re doing. Sure, we have the cognitive ability to think about what is not going on around us. But that aptitude costs us some happiness.
When you’re not living in the present and not paying attention to the current moment, where is your mind? It’s stuck in the past or worrying about the future. It might even be imagining events that will never happen.
What is the result of all of that mind wandering? Worry, doubt, fear, and other unpleasant emotions.
The study mentioned above found that people were happiest when doing activities that caused their minds to wander less. Therefore, you might be able to pin down a better attitude if you can just focus on what you’re doing in the present instead of letting your thoughts drift.
There are other benefits to mindfulness, and they don’t just help the mind and emotional self. Studies show that a mindfulness practice:
- Contributes to healthy blood sugar levels
- Can improve cardiovascular health
- Reduces cravings
- Diminishes repetitive intrusive thoughts, or rumination
- Reduces stress
- Improves working memory
- Makes you less emotionally reactive
- Helps you ignore distractions
- Enhances relationship satisfaction
- Allows you to be more adaptive to tense or negative situations
- Increases immune function
- Improves information processing speeds
Mindfulness has also been found to be just as effective for treating depression and anxiety as cognitive behavioral therapy, an approach that is widely used by people in the mental health field. Perhaps the benefits of mindfulness stem from the fact that it encourages self-compassion and resilience. When you’re more flexible and adaptable, you’re better able to handle stressful and negative situations without letting them throw you off track.
One study even showed that mindfulness changed the DNA of cancer patients. This evidence suggests that a mindfulness practice may be more powerful than we expect.
Benefits of Meditation
Studies have found that meditation has similar benefits as mindfulness. Some of the studies have lumped meditation and mindfulness together. The research has found that meditation can:
- Reduce stress
- Diminish inflammation
- Reduce anxiety, including symptoms of PTSD, social anxiety, OCD, and panic attacks
- Reduce depression
- Increase positivity and optimism
- Enhance self-awareness
- Extend your attention span
- Reduce age-related memory loss
- Increase compassionate feelings and behaviors toward yourself and others
- Control cravings
- Improve sleep
- Diminish pain
- Reduce blood pressure