mindfulness vs meditation

As a meditation teacher, many of my students ask me, “Are mindfulness and meditation the same thing?”

The difference between mindfulness and meditation can be a little confusing. The reason is that there are actually two different definitions of mindfulness. One is the original Buddhist meaning of the word. “Mindfulness Meditation” is an actual form of Buddhist meditation that is based around the idea of mindfully observing the present moment and labelling what we observe [for more on this, see my guide to Vipassana meditation].

The other definition of mindfulness is more open and versatile. It is the standard dictionary definition of mindfulness, “The quality or state of being consciously aware”. [READ: Getting Started With Mindfulness].

Mindfulness VS Meditation

If we look at mindfulness VS meditation, we find that they are similar but with a couple of important differences.

When most people compare mindfulness to meditation, they consider the second definition of mindfulness, that of general conscious awareness. And here it is easy to see why mindfulness and meditation are not the same thing. Meditation is the formal practice of sitting and observing the breath (or another object), while mindfulness is essentially being consciously aware of the present moment.

There are many different ways to practice mindfulness [Read: Beginners mindfulness exercises] and indeed it is entirely possible to practice mindfulness without meditation.

The difference between mindfulness and meditation is essentially that mindfulness is a quality of mind, where meditation is a specific practice. We can be mindful at any time while doing anything, simply by focusing on the present moment. With meditation, on the other hand, it is expressly the practice of sitting and meditating.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: What is Mindfulness?

Why I Combine Mindfulness And Meditation

Now we’ve looked at mindfulness VS meditation, let’s discuss what happens when you combine these two practices.

As a meditation teacher, I often tell my students that the best option is to combine mindfulness and meditation. The two complement each other perfectly, but while working in different ways.

In my experience, meditation is best done daily for at least twenty minutes. This quiets the mind and establishes focus and concentration. When we meditate, we let go of our thoughts, quiet the mind, and produce a level of inner peace that is conducive to both happiness and productivity. The one problems with meditation is that it is hard to maintain that sense of inner peace after you finish your practice sessions. Enter mindfulness.

Mindfulness is actually the Pali word for “Remembering”. And, by coincidence, mindfulness is the best way to remember to maintain that sense of inner peace we developed when we meditated.

I often tell my students to think of mindfulness as a little “top-up”. It’s a practice you can use to boost your awareness throughout the day. That’s why it’s best to practice a couple of brief mindfulness exercises a couple of times per hours, so that you maintain your conscious awareness throughout the day.

Think about it like this. You meditate and you achieve stillness and inner peace. But gradually you lose that stillness. So you use mindfulness to top it up. That way you’re consciously aware for the entire day.

By using a combination of mindfulness and meditation, I find that I am able to maintain focus and inner peace the whole day, and this of course has numerous health benefits.


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