Meditation vs. Mindfulness: What Is the Difference Between the Two?
Mindfulness has become a popular word recently, but do you know how it differs from meditation?
Meditation and mindfulness each have many definitions and are often intertwined, so it’s easy to confuse the two terms. However, these two terms actually complement each other. They are two sides of the same coin, and often overlap. Each has its own specific and slightly different definition and purpose.
Being able to build a mindfulness meditation habit is something that has a lot of positive effects on your overall health and relationships with others. It is important to know what each is, and somehow incorporate them into your daily life.
Meditation vs. Mindfulness
Like yoga, meditation and mindfulness both have an ancient and spiritual history that originate with religion.
Meditation originally involved rhythmic chants and mantras, with its earliest records found in Hinduism texts called the Vedas. As time progressed from 1700 BC, different forms of meditation began to develop in India and China, in both Buddhism and Taoism.
While ancient meditation primarily focused on spiritual growth, the 20th century form it took in the West was realigned to fit with a modern, secular society. This led to its current role in reducing stress and improving overall health.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is actually a specific form of meditation. There is a fine line of distinction between the two, but the main difference is that meditation is a bigger umbrella term that includes the practice of mindfulness. This specific practice refers to the ability to reach ultimate consciousness and concentration, to have the ability to acknowledge one's mind, and to even self-regulate it.
Mindfulness may involve a number of techniques to reach this intense level of consciousness. Some of these techniques include love, compassion, and patience. Other types of meditation aside from mindfulness include tantra, yoga, silence, and deep breathing.
Mindfulness is the practice of having complete focus on the present moment. This could be as simple as focusing on the process of drinking a hot cup of tea, analyzing its scent, taste, and warmth, and removing any other emotions from your mind.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation “teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is,” says Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D., author of The Courage to Be Present.
Mindfulness meditation is actually a simple practice. You just need to be able to take a good seat, pay close attention to your breath, and, if you find that your attention begins to wander, return it to the present moment.
Why Practice Mindfulness Meditation?
Adding mindfulness to your life will result in several benefits to your overall health. A consistent practice of mindfulness meditation provides the following benefits:
1. Lowers your stress and improves our ability to handle stress.
Stress is such a toxic thing in our lives. It is important for overall health and longevity to limit the amount of stress that your body is exposed to, and to try your best to learn how to handle the stress that you cannot avoid. Additionally, learning how to declutter your mind can help take some undue pressure off of you and allow you to live in a more relaxed state of being.
Chronic stress leads to a variety of health problems, so it is important to address your stress even before it happens. Mindfulness meditation will teach you how to successfully work through stressful situations so they do not have long-term consequences on your health and well-being.
2. Helps you become more compassionate.
Studies have shown that meditation may make you a better, more compassionate person. Researchers have looked at people's compassionate behavior after undergoing meditation sessions and found that only 15% of people who did not have any meditation training tended to have compassion for others in a specific circumstance.
In contrast, about 50% of people who went through meditation sessions had compassion in the same situation. Specifically, it has been found that the brain's amygdala’s response to emotional situations is influenced by meditation.
3. Enhances our self-awareness.
Everyone's reality corresponds in some way to objective accuracy criteria. However, research has shown that there are gaps in self-knowledge that have negative consequences. Mindfulness can help improve self-awareness by addressing both informational and motivational barriers.
4. Improves your learning ability.
It is common for people's minds to wander while they are learning. Staying focused on one thing for an extended period of time can be difficult. However, practicing mindfulness helps people maintain focus on the current moment and increase their learning ability and discover their learning style. Mindfulness training has even proven itself to be effective in raising scores on GRE tests.
5. Helps improve your mental health and fight loneliness and depression.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has proven to be effective in the prevention of relapses in depression. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has positive effects on the human brain that result in an increase in happiness and a decrease in loneliness.
6. Improves your focus and attention.
Just like mindfulness helps increase one's ability to learn, it also helps students focus on the task at hand, thereby improving focus and attention. This has long-lasting positive effects such as improved memory and learning.
7. Helps you sleep better.
Mindfulness shares similarities with other relaxation techniques that are designed to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. Mindfulness helps switch your brain out of "doing" mode and brings your focus back to sleep, allowing stressful thoughts to pass.
8. Supports your weight-loss efforts.
When you are eating, practicing mindfulness allows you to slow down and enjoy the smells, flavors, and textures of your food. It also helps to eliminate distractions such as television that may be causing you to eat more than you need to.
How to Do Mindfulness Meditation
The most common form of mindfulness meditation is sitting meditation, which is a very simple practice. Find a quiet and comfortable place in your home that has very little distraction.
Set your desired amount of time to practice your mindfulness meditation. This may start with just 5 or 10 minutes before progressing to 45 minutes or more. Use a timer so you do not need to think about the time during your meditation. If you are especially busy, doing a little meditation is better than doing none at all. When you get the chance, try to fit mindfulness meditation into your day.
To begin, take a seat where you can be stable and well-balanced. Make sure your legs are supported, whether by having both of your feet flat on the floor or by crossing them in front of you.
Straighten your upper body in a natural way. Allow your spine to take the position of its natural curves, with your head and shoulders resting on top. Make sure your upper arms are in line with your upper body, and allow your hands to rest on the tops of your legs. Make sure you are not leaning either too far forward or too far back so you are in a comfortable and natural position.
Slowly allow your chin to drop just a little, and allow your gaze to fall and your eyelids to lower. You may choose to close your eyes completely, but this is a personal preference that is not required. Stay in this position for a few minutes while relaxing and paying attention to your breath and any sensations in your body.
Follow your breath as you inhale and exhale, and pay attention to the sensation that breathing allows your body to have. Think about the air moving through your respiratory system while your stomach rises and falls with each breath. If your eyes are slightly open, choose your focal point and mentally note your breaths.
Your focus will naturally leave your breath and go to other places. This is okay. Try to not react to these thoughts, but instead observe them and allow them to pass. Just make sure to always return your focus to your breath after your passing thoughts.
Before moving, pause. For example, if you have to shift your position or move a little bit, stop for a moment before choosing a moment to do so. This will give you some space between your experience of motion and your choice to do so.
When you are finished, gently lift your eyes and take a minute to notice any sounds in your environment. Notice your body, your thoughts, and your emotions. Stop for a minute to decide how you want to proceed with your day.
Build the Mindfulness Meditation Habit
It may be difficult at first to build your mindfulness meditation habit. Make sure that you have a clear understanding of your purpose at the beginning of your meditation.
Think about why you want to start this practice, and set realistic expectations. While results may take a while, it will be worth it in the end to be persistent with your mindfulness meditation practice.
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