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What Is The Difference Between Meditation & Mindfulness?

Written By Sean Grabowski

A passionate ambassador, educator and student of mindfulness and meditation. Advocate for unique experiences and life long learning.

April 26, 2021

As meditation and mindfulness continue to become words we hear in the media and the mainstream more and more frequently, there is a distinct difference in the meaning of the two words that I often see being misunderstood. Although both terms are quite similar and highly related in their meanings, they both possess different and unique meanings that are important to understand for anybody looking to learn more or master their practice of either meditation or mindfulness. Although the two terms have quite a bit of overlap, in this article you will learn about the difference between the two, and why this separation is important. 

What is meditation: 

Meditation is defined as a key practice utilizing specific techniques and approaches that assist in creating a heightened state of presence and awareness. Meditation is the word we use to define the practice of actively engaging with the skill of momentary presence and awareness.

As opposed to mindfulness, meditation the specific activity utilized to heighten our awareness. Since there are thousands of different kind of meditation that we know about, this practice can take shape in a wide variety of forms. Some of the most common types of meditation practices include:

  • Focused awareness, or concentrative meditation. 
    • This is the practice of focusing all of our attention on one specific element of our current experience. This may be on the breath, on bodily sensation, on the sounds in our surroundings, or any anchor of our choosing.
  • Mindfulness meditation.
    • In this form of meditation, we focus on bringing our attention to our own experience of the present moment to foster greater self-awareness of our own experiences, interpretations, or judgments. This technique is commonly utilized Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as it often provides a great opportunity to work through challenges, tendencies, and our emotional experiences of the world around us.
  • Movement Meditations.
    • Whereas mindfulness and focused attention meditations are inherently quite still in movement, movement meditation is all about moving the body as the anchor/object of the practice. In this technique, a wide range of activities can be utilized, from walking to yoga, anything with subtle movements will work. The goal of this practice is to bring complete presence and awareness to the movements we are engaging in. 
  • Mantra Meditation.
    • In mantra practices, the goal is to utilize a specific mantra as our object of attention. This may be the repetition of perspectives we want to solidify into our belief system, or we can simply choose a word to act solely as a point of focus. This exercise involves the repetition of the chosen word as the focal point of our practice. 

What is mindfulness: 

As defined by John Kabat Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and The Center For Mindfulness In Medicine, mindfulness is defined as the following:

“The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. 

According to the American Psychological Association mindfulness is defined as the following: 

“…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”

Mindfulness is the skill of presence, awareness and non-judgement. This relates strongly to meditation because meditation is the key practice utilized to improve and experience mindfulness. While meditation is the practice and the technique utilized, mindfulness is the quality or experience of such an exercise. 

Why the difference between meditation and mindfulness matters:

The distinction between the two terms is important to understand because it allows us to maximize the potential that both practices possess. Knowing that mindfulness is a skill that helps the mind remain calm and resilient across a huge range of life activities provides us with the permission to bring quality to anything we choose to. Whether that is meeting with a client, driving home from work, or skiing down the steep face of a mountain, mindfulness keeps us sharp, it keeps us present, and it inherently keeps us out of the anxious tendencies of compulsively thinking about hypothetical situations and past experiences. Presence is the only place we have access to the toted and well-studied “flow state”. Meditation is a tangible experience. It is not a mental model, but an intentional activity to exercise and strengthen mindful awareness. Meditation is our access point to greater mindfulness. No different than physical strength training for the musculature and endurance of the body, meditation is our mind’s opportunity to reinforce presence, reinforce emotional regulation, and reinforce that ever sought-after state of flow. When we meditate we practice mindfulness, and we get better at bringing it to every experience, decision, and action of our day. The benefits of bringing this kind of mindful intention into each element of our lives, truly do speak for themselves.

In this video on YouTube, Co-Founder of Muse Ariel Garten, describes the difference between mindfulness and meditation, and the benefits of each quite well in my opinion. 

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