Many of you may have heard of mindfulness but are not sure how it differs from meditation. Both terms have multiple, nuanced definitions, and they are related but not the same thing. Read on to learn the difference:
Of the two, meditation is the broader term. Meditation means setting aside time to intentionally focus your full attention on one particular thing, such as the breath, your body's sensations, or a mantra (repeated word or phrase). The goal of meditation could be to realize a particular, more immediate benefit (like feeling more calm or releasing tension in a particular area of the body). Alternatively, it may be a means of achieving a broader goal such as training your mind to focus its awareness or cultivating a particular quality or emotional state (for example: compassion, gratitude, or forgiveness).
Meditation is often practiced in a seated posture, but can also be done in other ways such as walking meditation or a body scan performed while lying down.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of, accepting, and living in the present moment. It's completely normal for your mind to wander almost constantly. Many of us find ourselves frequently caught up in thinking about something that happened in the past, something that we're worried about in the future, or something that's completely unrelated to what we intended to focus our attention on. Practicing mindfulness is about being conscious of when our mind has wandered, and then bringing it back to the present moment without any judgement, overthinking, or over-analyzing.
A common misconception is that mindfulness is about banishing your thoughts or "clearing your mind." This would be almost impossible to do; thoughts will always come and go. Rather than trying to rid the mind of thoughts, mindfulness is about training your brain to acknowledge them but then also to redirect your attention to the present moment and whatever it is that you want to focus on. Consistently practicing mindfulness will eventually strengthen the regions of the brain that control emotions, focus attention, and regulate and "fight or flight" stress responses.
Learning mindfulness begins with a daily seated meditation practice, often focused on the breath. As one continues to practice mindfulness, however, it goes beyond a formal practice and becomes a habit that impacts your thought patterns, reactions to stress, default emotional settings, and relationships to other people. We learn to act, speak, think, and even eat mindfully.