This might surprise you...
One of the most common questions I get asked as a mindfulness meditation teacher is: "What is the difference between meditation and mindfulness? Aren't they the same thing?".
In today's world, as we look to holistic practices to support our health and wellbeing, these terms are often used interchangeably. While there is overlap and they have similar outcomes, the practices and techniques are different.
To help you better understand the terms, and how you can embrace these practices in your own life, let's break down meditation vs mindfulness and take a closer look at the similarities and differences.
Meditation Vs Mindfulness: What Is The Difference?
Mindfulness is a sense of awareness that comes from paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations in your body or the world around you. Meditation, however, is a practice that requires focus and attention. Mindfulness techniques can often be done anytime and anywhere, whereas a meditation practice requires you to take time out of your day to do, for example, a breathing practice, guided meditation, visualisation or body scan.
You don't have to meditate to be mindful - there are other ways of embracing mindfulness that don't require a dedicated meditation routine. Think mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful drawing or even just paying attention to the task at hand - such as focusing on the feeling of each tooth as you brush your teeth, or the sensation of the water on your skin in the shower.
Meditation Vs Mindfulness: How Are They Linked?
While the terms aren't interchangeable, they are linked and often work hand in hand and meditation is often a gateway to living more mindfully.
Both meditating and practising mindfulness benefit our overall well-being. Research shows us that meditation boosts concentration, improves mood, reduces stress, broadens our perspective and makes us more aware of our internal and external world. Similarly, practising mindfulness techniques - whether that's going for a walk and noticing the sensations you're feeling, or becoming aware of unhelpful thoughts, accepting and re-focusing them - can have the same effect. Both practices are about having an open mind, and accepting everything, from thoughts and feelings to sensations in the body, without judgement.
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Now we know what meditation is, what mindfulness is and how they differ. So, what is mindfulness meditation?
Combining the structure and focus of a meditation practice and mindful techniques, mindfulness meditation often focuses on deep breathing, body scans and visualisations to bring you into the present moment. It's about using your meditation practice to bring awareness to the body and mind. And, you don't need a special meditation space, a yoga mat or a meditation cushion (although these can be nice extras).
If you're time-poor, don't worry - you don't need to meditate for hours every day to benefit from mindfulness meditation. I encourage my clients to build a meditation practice that fits with their lifestyle, which sometimes is just a 10-minute breathing exercise on their morning commute or a body scan before bed.
How To Practice Mindfulness Meditation
There are so many mindfulness meditation techniques out there, but I want to share with you two that I swear by.
I Am Breathing In, I Am Breathing Out
This practice is really accessible and easy to do anytime, anywhere. While I encourage you to build a meditation routine, and carve out a time and place for your practice to 'fill up your cup' - I know that isn't always possible. So, if you're short on time try this. This exercise not only reduces your heart rate and breathing rate, kick-starting your parasympathetic nervous system and bringing your body and mind into a relaxed state, it also gives you a phrase to focus on. It's a common misconception that meditation is about clearing the mind. It isn't. It's totally impossible to stop thinking. But, syncing a phrase with your breath gives a busy mind something to focus on.
Take five minutes to breathe deeply, you can close your eyes or keep them open - whatever is most comfortable for you.
Start to notice your breath and where you can feel it most strongly - it could be in the rise and fall of your chest, or the sensations in your nostrils.
Now take 10 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth.
As you inhale, repeat in your mind "I am breathing in", and as your exhale, repeat "I am breathing out"
Mindful Walking Practice
I believe nature is so healing. I never feel as calm and balanced as I do when I'm walking near the water or in the green spaces of London. It calms my mind, encourages me to move my body and gets me outside in the fresh air - bliss.
Leave your headphones at home and tune into your senses as you walk.
Think about what you can hear - the sound of leaves rustling, the water hitting the shore, birds chirping or dogs playing nearby.
Think about what you can see - the colours of the leaves or ripples in the water.
Think about what you can smell - fresh coffee from a nearby cafe or sweet flowers in a garden.
Think about what you can feel - the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair or the material of your scarf keeping you warm.
Think about what you can taste - your morning coffee or the salty sea air. Maybe it's just the freshness of your toothpaste still lingering on your taste buds.
Tuning into each sense one-by-one will help bring you into the present moment.
Meet The Expert
Ciara is a wellbeing journalist, meditation and breathwork practitioner. She graduated with the British School of Meditation in 2021 and in 2022 launched Finding Quiet, a digital platform supporting busy people on their journey to living more mindfully. Ciara works behind-the-scenes on Finding Quiet, creating content for you to read, listen to and meditate with, but she also works with top wellbeing experts to bring you luxury workshops and retreats. When she's not working on Finding Quiet, Ciara writes about health and wellbeing for a range of lifestyle magazines, including Red, Women's Health, Stylist, Marie Claire and Woman & Home.