Is mindfulness the same as meditation? Is mindfulness a type of meditation? What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation? Questions like these are always present in my programs for beginners. So I thought it would be interesting to write a post explaining what mindfulness and meditation are, and what the relation between these two is.
Mindfulness is the capacity, quality or ability to be fully present in the moment. It brings with it an attitude of curiosity, openness, acceptance and kindness. Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness is the awareness that appears when we pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Another definition that I like is the one given by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist and author, Thich Nhat Hanh, “Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others”.
You can find more definitions out there. But I like to say that the best way to understand mindfulness is to experience it. As the Clinical Psychologist Christopher Germer says, “A moment of mindfulness is a kind of awareness that arrives before words, as the shine of the stars arrives before that we can name them”.
To be mindful has benefits. Scientific research over the last years has offered evidence about the beneficial effects of mindfulness. For example, the research of Professor Ellen Langer and Professor Richard Davidson suggests that mindfulness is strongly related to happiness. There is also evidence suggesting that being mindful can help us
- to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, improving our mental health and well-being
- to improve our academic performance
- to improve creative thinking
- to reduce the risk of eating disorders
- to stabilized irregular heart rate
- to cope with chronic pain in the daily life
- to improve our immune system
The next question is, can I improve my mindfulness capacity? The answer is yes. Here is where the link between mindfulness and meditation appears. Mindfulness can be cultivated through different practices: one of these is meditation.
Briefly, we can say that meditation refers to an ancient group of practices. It comes in many forms and techniques. Also different contexts link to different meanings. Consequently, we don’t find a unique and consensual definition. Broadly, we can say that meditation practices help us to train our mind, soul and heart to raise our consciousness or, in a religious context, to achieve enlightenment. Specifically, in relation with mindfulness and from a western psychology perspective, Professors Roger Walsh and Shauna Shapiro define meditation in an article published in 2006 as, “A family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration”. I would like to add that meditation also includes attitude training that allows us to enhance our universal capacity for love toward ourselves and others.
For example, Mindfulness Based Interventions use meditation as their primary training technique. So the program Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction asks its participants to practice a minimum of 45 minutes meditation each day during the program to achieve optimal results.
Mindfulness is a form of awareness, a quality that allow us to achieve wellness, concentration, compassion, equanimity, peace. Through mindfulness we can better understand our mind, heart, and our connection with what surrounds us. We can become more emphatic, kind and conscious. Everyone has a different level of mindfulness. This can be improved through different ways, and one of these is meditation. Meditation includes a broad number of practices and techniques. There is no one definition of it, but from a western psychology perspective, we can say that meditation involves a series of practices whose aims are self-regulation of attention and the attitude to achieve greater states of consciousness and compassion.
I’ll finish this post by sharing a fun animated video that speaks about mindfulness and meditation: