More and more, mindfulness is something that’s seeping into our cultural conversation. You only have to take a quick scroll through Instagram or glance at a celebrity interview to hear people referencing mindfulness, but what exactly is ‘being mindful’? And, what’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably and the two terms can mean different things to different people.
How are mindfulness and meditation different?
Put simply, mindfulness is a quality, and meditation is a practice. Mindfulness is similar to a physical quality for the mind, like strength and flexibility are for the body. Meditation is an act, and can encompass activities like yoga or breath awareness.
According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is an “awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” It’s about bringing yourself back to each present moment, reigning in the mind each time it tries to wander, but not punishing yourself for letting your thoughts go.
Mindfulness is a shift back into the present moment, putting you back in your life and helping you to fully engage in it, while meditation is an intentional practice, focusing on increasing calmness, concentration, awareness, and emotional balance (Chopra). So while the two are different, they work hand in hand to bring your awareness to the present and help you experience that oh-so-sought-after inner peace.
Does being mindful make you happier?
In a word: yes! According to Harvard scientists, wandering minds aren't happy ones, and being mindful is a way to actually make you happier. While we would never say that those who don’t practice mindfulness aren’t happy, there is some science behind this. When you successfully cultivate mindfulness, you release “happy” chemicals in your brain, lowering your blood pressure, improving your digestion, and even releasing pain tension.
For many, those blissful moments of mindfulness happen during meditation. But what happens when you’re not meditating? Maloka founders Sukey and Beth have asked the same question:
What are we supposed to do for the 23 ½ hours a day spent not meditating? How do we keep our awareness going when we’re away from our practice and facing daily life? The stressful job, the scary boss, the screaming kids, the endless bills, the long lines at the grocery store, the dumb fights with our partner, and all the other things that shut us down, numb our senses, and dull our hearts?
How to practice mindfulness and why mindfulness is important
Maybe you’re someone who struggles with nurturing your meditation practice. Maybe you’re experiencing “monkey-mind” or judgemental thoughts. Maybe you have days where you sit in silence and stew, thinking cyclical thoughts like: “My breathing is supposed to be easier! My mind is supposed to be emptier! This isn’t working!” We’ve all been there.
If you’re too stressed to meditate, you just might find that mindfulness is the key to strengthening your meditation.
Mindfulness doesn’t require certain conditions to be put into practice, and it gets easier the more you do it. Best of all, it can be cultivated anywhere, at any time.
You can practice being mindful and in the moment when you’re:
- Making coffee
- Taking the kids to school
- Walking the dog
- Driving to work
- Making or eating a meal
- Doing chores (especially repetitive ones, like raking leaves or folding laundry)
The Maloka path to mindfulness through meditation
Mindfulness and meditation each enrich the other. As Sukey and Beth recall in Just Sit, “Meditation will remind you to be more mindful, and mindfulness will make you a better meditator. It’s not one or the other. They go hand in hand.”
To practice, check out one of our Maloka meditations, like this box breathing exercise with the one and only Danny Patka. It’s a simple, quick way to center yourself and bring your focus to each moment.
And remember, whether you’re doing a focused meditation session or playing with mindfulness in the middle of a workday, there’s no ONE right way to keep our awareness going. It’s all about breaking down mental barriers, keeping our hearts open, and making room for joy.