Mindfulness, Meditation, and Mindful Meditation: What’s the Difference?


The words “mindfulness” and “meditation” are tossed around quite frequently these days, and often they are used interchangeably or in combination with one another (e.g. “mindful meditation”). Although these terms are related and generally refer to the same idea of calming the mind, there are some notable differences which are highlighted below.

What is Mindfulness?

According to mindfulness expert, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."  Practicing mindfulness means acknowledging thoughts and feelings in the moment, rather than dwelling on past or future happenings. Simply acknowledging the thoughts without judgment allows you to retain your focus on the present moment and keep a calmer mind.

For example, many people arrive home at the end of their work-day commute without really thinking about how they got there or what happened along the way. Their thoughts were preoccupied with a conversation that happened at the office or all the tasks waiting for them when they arrive at home. Someone who is practicing mindfulness would focus on the drive in a different way. They would concentrate on the sights, smells, and how they were feeling in the present moment. Maybe they would acknowledge their feelings of stress, without judgment. Maybe they would note the smell of fresh cut grass or a stinky cattle truck passing by. When they arrive home, they will be able to recall many details from the trip.

Simply put:  mindfulness is a state of being…. A way of living which focuses on the present moment.

What is Meditation?

There are many ways to define meditation, but one thing to keep in mind is that meditation is a particular action. According to Mental Health Daily, meditation is a practice that involves focusing attention inwards. The focus of inward attention could be on a variety of things, e.g., a mantra, the breathing process (inhalation and exhalation), a vision, an emotion, an area of the body. Some people use meditation to relax and help with anxiety, others use it to build concentration, and yet others pursue the practice as a means of following a particular religion, likened to contemplative prayer in some circles.

There are many types of mediation, e.g., guided imagery, loving-kindness, and mindfulness. See below for more on mindfulness meditation.

What’s the major difference between mindfulness and mediation?

Mindfulness is the way of being, and meditation is the more focused practice, “on the cushion” practice. Mindfulness is a state that you can be in/attain all day long, as you eat lunch, drive home from work, and/or wait in a line at the grocery store.  Meditation is what helps us to nurture and cultivate mindfulness, that deeper connection to the present.

Simply put: meditation is a practice.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

When practicing mindfulness meditation, while you may use the focus on the breath as a guide, you aren’t focusing your attention on one specific object necessarily. Instead, you are allowing an openness of the mind, an awareness. Allowing your mind to observe and acknowledge whatever thoughts and feelings come to mind, without judgment and without holding on to them. In other words, you are simply observing all perceptions, thoughts, memories, and senses that you experience during your practice and often using basic things, such as the breath to help you keep your focus and your mind from wandering into other thoughts.

For mindfulness meditation, you will set aside time to practice. There are many ways you can practice. Start by choosing a quiet place with little distraction. It can be in your home or outside somewhere. Set aside at least 10 minutes to practice. Find a comfortable, seated position and maintain good posture. Sitting cross-leg on the ground is a great place to start.

Start to focus on your breath. Pay attention to how your chest rises and falls with each breath in and out. As you begin to focus on your breath, it will naturally become deeper. This will also help to naturally lower your heart rate. When your attention begins to wonder to other thoughts, gently bring it back to your breath. Your mind will naturally wonder quite often from the breath, especially in the beginning. Don’t be too hard or judgmental on yourself. This is normal. Simply come back to the breath as many times as you need to.

For more on how to get stared, check out these resources:

Jon Kabat-Zinn Guided Meditation

Sharon Salzberg 28 day free guided meditation practice

Mindful.org guide. Mindfulness meditation, getting started.



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