Mindfulness vs Meditation: What’s The Difference?

Mindfulness vs meditation, what are the differences between the two disciplines?

The terms mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably, but yogis, meditators, and anyone else should know that they don’t actually mean the same thing.

It’s possible to meditate every day without ever practicing mindfulness. At the same time, one can act mindfully without sitting down on a mat for a formal meditation session.

So what exactly do these two terms mean, and how can we distinguish them?

In this article, we’ll take you through the basics of mindfulness vs meditation, answering these key questions:

  • What is mindfulness?
  • What is meditation?
  • What is mindfulness meditation?
  • What’s the difference? mindfulness vs meditation
  • What are the benefits of these practices?

There’s a lot to get our teeth into — so let’s get started!

three people meditating together on a beach

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhist and Hindu spiritualism. The term itself derives from the Buddhist concept of sati (which means “awareness” in Pali).

However, the modern-day understanding of mindfulness in the West has strayed from these roots, and most types of practice are now secular. People talk about being mindful in loads of different contexts — so what exactly does it mean?

The term ‘mindfulness’ has two key meanings. Firstly, it refers to a type of meditation practice, in which participants generally focus on the breath, observe their thoughts, and try to cultivate a sense of calm concentration.

But mindfulness doesn’t have to be practiced within formal meditation. The term can also refer to a quality or state of mind that people can apply in various areas of life.

Daily mindfulness involves thinking more closely about the physical and mental sensations that accompany your experiences throughout the day.

The skills encouraged and developed by mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and at any time, no matter what you’re doing.

While meditation is a great way to facilitate your efforts to be mindful, it’s certainly not the only way. Non-judgmental present-moment awareness can be helpful in many different circumstances.

We’ll dive more into the relationship between mindfulness and meditation later. First, let’s consider precisely what the latter term means.

woman meditation on a yoga mat with her dog

What is meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is one of the most popular forms of meditative practice around, particularly in Europe and North America. If you’ve downloaded an app, taken a class, or read a book on meditation, it’s likely that you’ve come across it.

But meditation can stray from the principles we’ve just outlined.

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of different types of meditation practice used all over the world. These include Transcendental Meditation, Sleep Meditation, and Non-Dual Awareness practices, to name a few.

Lots of these forms of meditation incorporate the principles of mindfulness, but plenty of them also don’t.

Meditation is an incredibly broad spectrum that includes practices like religious prayer, mantra repetition, and various other forms of deep contemplation.

For that reason, it’s important to understand the differences between the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’. Let’s dive into that issue.

woman reading by a lake surrounded by mountains

What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Now that we’ve outlined what exactly is meant by the terms mindfulness and meditation, it’s worth clearly distinguishing the differences between the two practices.

This is something we’ve touched on already, but let’s spell it out plainly before we move onto the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Here are some key differences to bear in mind.

1. Mindfulness is a state of mind, as well as a practice

Being mindful doesn’t always mean sitting down to meditate. This term also relates to ways of thinking and behaving elsewhere in life.

Mindful eating, for example, involves thinking more carefully and intentionally about the food you consume, and the experience of eating. Mindful communication is about thinking before you speak and listening properly to others.

two women holding hands, laughing, walking along a beach

2. Meditation is a formal practice that requires dedicated time

Even if it only takes you a minute or two, meditation is something that requires your full attention for a specific period of time.

While you might get into some deep contemplation at different points in your day, meditation is not a state of mind in the way that mindfulness is.

3. Meditation doesn’t have to be mindful

There are loads of different forms of meditation that most expert meditators wouldn’t class as being mindful.

Transcendental Meditation, for instance, asks participants to repeat a specific mantra in order to distract the mind and bring about a state of deep relaxation. While this relaxed state is a form of meditation, it does not involve mindfulness.

Shortly, we’ll address the benefits of both these practices. But first, let’s stick on the track we’ve just raised: if meditation doesn’t have to be mindful, then what is mindfulness meditation? You might have heard of this popular meditative practice; let’s dig into it.

man meditating in a field of tall grass

What is mindfulness meditation?

When people talk about mindfulness meditation, they’re referring to a specific type of meditative practice that adheres to a few key principles.

As we’ve discussed, meditation includes all sorts of different traditions and techniques. Mindfulness meditation is a specific technique within that spectrum.

This particular form of meditation enacts the principles of mindfulness – chiefly, present moment awareness, focused concentration, and non-judgmental observation of thoughts – in a formal meditation setting.

Mindfulness meditation sessions will incorporate a range of techniques, including Mindful Breathing, noting practices, and body scans.

Different meditation teachers and traditions will put emphasis on different techniques, but as long as it adheres to the key principles mentioned above, it’ll likely be classed as mindfulness meditation.

Most people who regularly practice formal mindfulness meditation will also demonstrate mindful forms of behavior and communication throughout their everyday life.

woman meditating cross legged in her living room

This could be due to a focused effort; however, it’s also common for regular meditators to simply become naturally more inclined to behave mindfully and show patience, calmness, and empathy in their daily lives.

This is one of the biggest benefits provided by mindfulness meditation. But what are the others?

4 benefits of mindfulness meditation

Hopefully, you’ll now have a much better understanding of the differences between mindfulness and meditation.

It can be a tricky subject to get to grips with, but it’s useful to know what these terms mean, especially as mindfulness and meditation are now a big part of mainstream culture.

But even if you know the difference between mindfulness and meditation, you may still be hesitant to make these practices a part of your daily life. After all, what are the benefits? Well, before we wrap up, we’re going to take you through them.

Mindfulness and meditation have many of the same benefits, so we’ll explore them at the same time.

mum and two children cross legged meditating and laughing on a sofa

1. Reduced stress and anxiety

Mindfulness and meditation can improve our ability to handle feelings of anxiety and stress.

By learning how to observe our thoughts and view them as passing moments, we can get better at separating ourselves from the difficult feelings and experiences and thereby reduce their impact.

2. Improved focus

Mindfulness meditation, which encourages practitioners to place their attention on an anchor such as the breath, a mantra, or a bodily sensation, can help improve our concentration levels significantly.

3. Enhanced insight

Taking the time to think more deeply about the contents of your mind and how it works can have a serious impact on us.

Experiences of mindfulness and meditation allow us to gain more insight into the way we work, which can allow us to make positive changes to our behaviors and break unhealthy habits.

pregnant woman taking a deep inhale, looking grateful

4. Increased feelings of acceptance and gratitude

Accepting that things are the way they are, and that no thoughts, feelings, or experiences are totally permanent is one of the key benefits of mindfulness and meditation.

A great way of cultivating these values outside of formal meditation practice is by practicing gratitude journaling.

Combine these practices for real peace of mind

The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are very real, and while it can take a while for them to appear, various studies have backed up the positive impact these practices can have.

Whether you’re committed to a formal meditation routine or the idea of taking more relaxed mindful moments throughout the day appeals to you more, there are plenty of techniques that can bring these benefits to your life.

If you struggle to find time to sit down and meditate formally, the fluid nature of daily mindfulness might be the perfect alternative.

man meditating on sand, hands in a mudra

At the same time, it’s worth noting that a sustained meditative practice is more likely to yield positive results in terms of bringing greater calmness, awareness, and peace of mind to your life.

The differences between mindfulness vs meditation should now be clear to you. However, it’s important to recognize that they have a ton of key similarities and overlaps, so separating them too distinctly doesn’t really make sense.

If you really want to access enhanced levels of concentration, awareness, calmness, and positivity, you might want to consider combining elements of mindfulness and meditation.

Practicing daily mindfulness, before gradually moving into mindfulness meditation, can be a superb gateway for people who struggle to meditate. Try to keep an open mind and utilize the best elements of these two concepts, and you should see positive results.

Want to find out some more about the keys to unlocking a healthy meditation routine? Check out our article on meditation mudras, the potent tool for practicing self-care, intentionality, and empowerment.

Fred Garratt-Stanley

Fred Garratt-Stanley

Fred is a London-based writer who works for several health, wellness and fitness sites, with much of his work focusing on mindfulness. He's also a massive football fan, writing regularly for Jobs In Football and following his side Norwich City home and away.

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