Meditation and mindfulness: Synonymous or not?

S Migaj | |meditation, and mindfulness

The first thing to understand is that meditation and mindfulness are different.

Meditation is a tool used to achieve mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing without being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Meditation is an umbrella term for the many types of practices that can help you develop mindfulness. These include breathing exercises, body scans, walking meditations, loving-kindness meditations … the list goes on and on! In the past few years, mindfulness and meditation have become almost synonymous. Although there may be some overlap between these two practices, they’re distinct.

The critical difference between the two is that meditation aims to achieve inner peace and harmony, while mindfulness is more about living in the present moment.

Both meditation and mindfulness have a similar mental process: You focus on one thing — whether it’s your breath, a word, a sound, or an object — to clear your mind of other distracting thoughts. However, you’re likely to have different goals depending on whether you’re meditating or practicing mindfulness.

Understanding where meditation ends and mindfulness begins is easier if we think of meditation as a process or activity. On the other hand, mindfulness is more like a state of mind. So let’s look at what those two terms mean (and don’t mean).


Meditation is the practice or habit of meditating. Many people define meditation differently, from training your mind to that of being quiet like a religious experience.

The definition that provides the most clarity is that meditation is a methodology for training and controlling my mind. So, how do you start?

Meditation involves training your attention to bring mental clarity and emotional calmness. It can include techniques such as focusing on your breathing, repeating a word or phrase called a mantra, or visualizing an object or scene like a sunlit beach.

I started with a simple breathing meditation.

  1. Sit or lie down comfortably.
  2. Relax your hands and arms.
  3. Then focus on your breath as you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and then breathe out for four counts.
  4. Set a time limit and repeat this process.

Start small and increase the length of time. Then, as you breathe and focus on your breath going in and out, notice how your mind is emptying and calmer.

There are many different types of meditation — including Zen meditation and transcendental meditation ™ — but all have these things in common:

A quiet location with as few distractions as possible.

A specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or even standing).

A focus (a specially chosen word or words — a mantra).

Mindfulness defines mindfulness as the essential human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening. Unfortunately, few of us are fully present. For example, I was on a three-hour trip this weekend, and while driving back, I found my mind wandering and my attention divided. I wasn’t in a mindful state.

Mindfulness has many benefits-

  1. Your teacher won’t throw an eraser at you to wake you up.
  2. You have reduced stress because you don’t overreact or feel overwhelmed as often.
  3. When you’re talking with someone, they can tell that you’re fully present and listening, so it helps you build better relationships.
  4. It will help improve your general health.

So start with meditation and move into mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about learning how to respond rather than react to situations in our lives. It is not meditation, which is a practice.

To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is. Thích Nhất Hạnh

Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we’re already. Pema Chödrön



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