What’s the Difference Between Meditation and Mindfulness?

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We live during a time where Eastern philosophy is beginning to seep into the mainstream Western way of life. Words like mindfulness and meditation are becoming everyday terms in Western colloquialism. The question becomes: Are these words interchangeable?

Because these terms are often used in a similar context, confusion about the differences between mindfulness and meditation is understandable. There are many ways to define, describe, and practice both, and their practical applications are incredibly intertwined.

Mindfulness and meditation embody many similarities and can overlap, but they are not exactly the same. Let’s take a closer look.

Meditation

Meditation typically refers to formal, seated meditation practice. There are many types of meditation—those that focus on opening your heart, expanding your awareness, calming your mind, experiencing inner peace, and the list goes on. Here are some examples:  

  • Breath-awareness meditation
  • Loving-kindness meditation
  • Mantra-based meditation
  • Visualization meditation
  • Guided meditation

Meditation is an intentional practice, where you focus inward to increase calmness, concentration, and emotional balance. Seated meditation usually begins with deep breathing in a comfortable position, bringing all your awareness to your breath—inhales and exhales—consciously guiding the mind toward an anchor, or a single point of focus. In meditation, you typically spend a focused chunk of time—anywhere from a minute to an hour or more—in which you are tuned inward.

At the Chopra Center, we teach Primordial Sound Meditation, a specific type of mantra-based meditation, and recommend meditating for 30 minutes at a time, if possible. If that’s not possible for your schedule, any amount of time will help you find your center.

Simple Mantra Meditation: So Hum

Try this seated meditation with whatever time you have available.

  • Close your eyes and take one full minute to settle in by taking a few deep, cleansing breaths.
  • Start to repeat the mantra So Hum to yourself silently, slowly synching the rhythm of your breath to the mantra.
  • As you inhale, silently repeat the word “So“.
  • As you exhale, silently repeat the word “Hum“.
  • Continue breathing slowly and aligning your mantra to your breath, being careful not to rush your breath if you notice your mantra speeding up.
  • Each time you notice your mind wander, simply draw your attention back to the mantra So Hum.
  • When your time is up, gently release the mantra, taking a moment to sit quietly before opening your eyes.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about being aware, which of course includes the practice of meditation. When you are being actively mindful, you are noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and movements, and also to the effects you have on those around you.

You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere, and with anyone by showing up and being fully engaged in the here and now. Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention and noticing and being present in whatever you’re doing. When most people go about their daily lives, their minds wander from the actual activity they are participating in, to other thoughts or sensations. When you’re mindful, you are actively involved in the activity with all of your senses instead of allowing your mind to wander.

Mindfulness can be practiced both informally (at any time/place) and formally (during seated meditation). Where meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time, mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day.

It can be difficult for the human mind to stay in the present moment. In fact, a recent study at Harvard found that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. This kind of mindlessness is the norm, as the mind spends its time focused on the past (in regret mode), the future (in worry mode), and trying out should have’s and what if’s. The study also found that allowing the brain to run on auto-pilot like this can make people unhappy. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” the researchers said.

This is where mindfulness can help. Here’s an example of an informal mindfulness practice you can try at any time of the day:

5 Senses Practice

Any time you complete a simple task—like brushing your teeth or washing your dishes, tune into your five senses—sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. For each sense, name two to three examples of the things you notice as you complete the task.

For example, when you’re brushing your teeth, you may notice:

  • The flavor of the paste on your tongue.
  • The smell of the paste coming through your nostrils.
  • The cooling sensations.
  • The way the toothbrush moves over your teeth and gums.
  • The sounds of the bristles moving back and forth in your mouth.
  • Your reflection in the bathroom mirror and the lighting in the bathroom.
  • The tingling sensation of the paste on your gums and teeth.

This practice will help you tune into your surroundings and increase your present-moment awareness. If you practice this with everyday activities—even those you have done a thousand times—you will begin to notice new things about the space you are in.

As you can see, you are practicing mindfulness during formal meditation, and a formal meditation practice supports and enriches your ability to be mindful in your everyday life. When you practice focusing on one thing at a time during seated meditation, it allows you to bring more focus, presence, and mindfulness into every other part of your life.


This summer, join Oprah and Deepak for a free online meditation journey to follow your passion and discover your purpose. Energy of Attraction starts July 23. Register for free.


 

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About the Author
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Melissa Eisler

Certified Leadership & Career Coach, Yoga & Meditation Instructor, Author
Melissa is the Senior Content Strategist at the Chopra Center. Also an ICF Certified Leadership and Career Coach (ACC) and certified meditation and yoga instructor, she is passionate about motivating people to live a healthy, balanced, and purposeful life. You can learn more about Melissa’s coaching practice at MelissaEisler.com . Melissa is also the author of The Type A's Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People , a practical guide for new meditators in the modern world, and the creator of mindfulminutes.com , a...Read more