Many people confuse mindfulness with meditation. While they both include a variety of practices, they are not the same. To add to the confusion, the definition of mindfulness is not universal. This makes it challenging for people new to practice because they may believe that all mindfulness is meditation, they don’t understand that there are differences, or they may not know that there are a variety of practice techniques to choose from.
Mindfulness and meditation, though, are not mutually exclusive. According to Thrive Global, they are mirror images of each other, each enhancing the other. In a sense, mindfulness could be considered a broader and more versatile daily practice, although both meditation and mindfulness have some very prescriptive forms and practices. Here is a definition of mindfulness from mindfulness.org. “Mindfulness is the basic 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 going on around us.”
However, some sources still consider mindfulness a form of meditation. Meditation has 9 common forms of practice and also helps to develop an awareness of the present. Mindfulness meditation is one form that combines the practice of focus with awareness. It is one of the easiest forms of meditation to learn on your own.
Both forms share distraction as a common practice issue. While you may often find your mind wandering, especially as you begin any mindfulness or meditation practice, this should not deter you from continuing to practice. It’s perfectly normal for your mind to wander; just bring yourself back to the activity. With meditation, usually focusing on the breath helps bring you back to focus. If you are practicing mindfulness during an activity, just let the distraction pass and refocus on the activity. Noting a distraction and letting it pass is important to mastering any practice.
There are numerous studies on both mindfulness and meditation; they share many common benefits. There is also some practice overlap, as there are mindfulness meditations. Practice is key to achieving the overall benefits of both. Mindfulness practice research supports that it improves sleep, decreases stress, decreases anxiety, decreases fatigue, reduces cravings, increases compassion, increases acceptance, and increases focus.[i],[ii],[iii],[iv],[v],[vi] Meditation research shows that it helps with improving mood, emotional regulation, stress reduction, anxiety, memory, pain control, weight management, and blood pressure management.[vii],[viii].[ix],[x],[xi],[xii] These are only some examples.
Here are some comparisons between meditation and mindfulness that may help you consider starting to practice at least some form to enhance your ability to focus and your overall mind.
- Involves being present in the moment and total awareness of your surroundings.
- Engages your senses of sight, smell, touch, and hearing.
- Is easy and can be practiced with any activity because it just involved being present in what you are doing. Examples would be conversation, walking, exercise, play, eating, etc.
- Promotes peaceful observation without feeling, thought, judgment. Jon Kabat-Zin defines the 7 pillars of mindfulness as non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.
- Simple mindfulness practices include stopping, observing, and noting. There are hundreds of techniques and resources to develop mindfulness such as journaling, breathing, sitting in silence, and reflecting; many you could even make up on your own. Whatever you choose, the goal is to be fully engaged and attentive in the activity.
- With continued practice, it provides many benefits such as supporting open communication, listening, focused attention, problem-solving, empathy, and creativity.
- Mindful eating can promote weight loss and normalize eating behaviors. [xiii],[xiv]
- Mindfulness-based practice can promote stress resilience.[xv]
- Mindful-based interventions (MBI) are therapeutic approaches to mindfulness used for different types of health issues, including mindful-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindful-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
- 9 common types include mindfulness, spiritual, focused attention, movement, mantra, Transcendental, progressive, loving-kindness, and visualization.
- Includes a variety of other forms such as Kundalini, Zen, Hindu, Chinese, or Transcendental Meditation, Chakra, Yogic, sitting, walking, and others.
- Examples of movement meditation include yoga, Qigong, or t’ai chi
- Spiritual meditations promote connecting to something greater than the self
- Involves mindfulness, although usually with an inner focus in the beginning and end.
- Often uses breath as a focus
- May use a body scan technique in addition to breath to promote relaxation
- Usually involves a dedicated practice time whereas mindfulness can be done throughout the day.
- May include use of a mantra, sounds, imagery
While it is easy to confuse meditation and mindfulness as they share commonalities, it’s also important to understand that there are a variety of practices to try. Some are easier to try on your own. This opens up the opportunity to enhance your ability to be in the present, especially in a world filled with distractions. Through mindfulness and/or meditation practice, you can improve your ability to be in the present wherever you are, enhancing your focus and engagement in whatever you are doing. This provides benefits not only for you but for those who you are with.
[i] Barrett B, Harden CM, Brown RL, Coe CL, Irwin MR. Mindfulness meditation and exercise both improve sleep quality: Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial of community dwelling adults. Sleep Health. 2020 Dec;6(6):804-813. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2020.04.003. Epub 2020 May 22. PMID: 32448712; PMCID: PMC8157793.
[ii] Demarzo MM, Montero-Marin J, Stein PK, Cebolla A, Provinciale JG, García-Campayo J. Mindfulness may both moderate and mediate the effect of physical fitness on cardiovascular responses to stress: a speculative hypothesis. Front Physiol. 2014 Mar 25;5:105. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00105. PMID: 24723891; PMCID: PMC3971190.
[iii] Tapper K. Mindfulness and craving: effects and mechanisms. Clin Psychol Rev. 2018 Feb;59:101-117. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2017.11.003. Epub 2017 Nov 13. PMID: 29169665.
[iv] Aust J, Bradshaw T. Mindfulness interventions for psychosis: a systematic review of the literature. J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2017 Feb;24(1):69-83. doi: 10.1111/jpm.12357. Epub 2016 Dec 8. PMID: 27928859.
[v] Dunning DL, Griffiths K, Kuyken W, Crane C, Foulkes L, Parker J, Dalgleish T. Research Review: The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on cognition and mental health in children and adolescents – a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;60(3):244-258. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12980. Epub 2018 Oct 22. PMID: 30345511; PMCID: PMC6546608.
[vi] Newland P, Bettencourt BA. Effectiveness of mindfulness-based art therapy for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2020 Nov;41:101246. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101246. Epub 2020 Oct 13. PMID: 33075726.
[vii] Basso JC, McHale A, Ende V, Oberlin DJ, Suzuki WA. Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behav Brain Res. 2019 Jan 1;356:208-220. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023. Epub 2018 Aug 25. PMID: 30153464.
[viii] Lekhak N, Bhatta TR, Zauszniewski JA. Episodic Memory in Later Life: Benefits of Prayer and Meditation. J Holist Nurs. 2020 Mar;38(1):30-40. doi: 10.1177/0898010119898547. Epub 2020 Jan 6. PMID: 31904314.
[ix] Edwards MK, Loprinzi PD. Comparative effects of meditation and exercise on physical and psychosocial health outcomes: a review of randomized controlled trials. Postgrad Med. 2018 Mar;130(2):222-228. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2018.1409049. Epub 2017 Nov 27. PMID: 29164993.
[x] Spadaro KC, Davis KK, Sereika SM, Gibbs BB, Jakicic JM, Cohen SM. Effect of mindfulness meditation on short-term weight loss and eating behaviors in overweight and obese adults: A randomized controlled trial. J Complement Integr Med. 2017 Dec 5;15(2):/j/jcim.2018.15.issue-2/jcim-2016-0048/jcim-2016-0048.xml. doi: 10.1515/jcim-2016-0048. PMID: 29211681.
[xi] Shi L, Zhang D, Wang L, Zhuang J, Cook R, Chen L. Meditation and blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Hypertens. 2017 Apr;35(4):696-706. doi: 10.1097/HJH.0000000000001217. PMID: 28033127.
[xii] Chen KW, Berger CC, Manheimer E, Forde D, Magidson J, Dachman L, Lejuez CW. Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depress Anxiety. 2012 Jul;29(7):545-62. doi: 10.1002/da.21964. Epub 2012 Jun 14. PMID: 22700446; PMCID: PMC3718554.
[xiii] Dunn C, Haubenreiser M, Johnson M, Nordby K, Aggarwal S, Myer S, Thomas C. Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain. Curr Obes Rep. 2018 Mar;7(1):37-49. doi: 10.1007/s13679-018-0299-6. PMID: 29446036.
[xiv] Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Dec;30(2):272-283. doi: 10.1017/S0954422417000154. Epub 2017 Jul 18. PMID: 28718396.
[xv] Chin B, Lindsay EK, Greco CM, Brown KW, Smyth JM, Wright AGC, Creswell JD. Psychological mechanisms driving stress resilience in mindfulness training: A randomized controlled trial. Health Psychol. 2019 Aug;38(8):759-768. doi: 10.1037/hea0000763. Epub 2019 May 23. PMID: 31120272; PMCID: PMC6681655.
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