Are Mindfulness and Meditation the Same Thing?

Often used interchangeably, these terms have different meanings

Being vs doing. Betsie Van Der Meer/Taxi/Getty Images

The term "mindfulness" seems to be everywhere these days - whether it's mindful eating, mindfulness on the job, or as a  stress reduction strategy.  But what is mindfulness, and is it the same thing as meditation?

The short answer is no.  Mindfulness itself is simply a way of observing your emotions and body state without any judgement, criticism or even any goal of changing what you are experiencing.

 When you are being mindful, you simply watch your emotions and take stock of your physical sensations with a compassionate, curious and accepting but somewhat detached attitude.  

You can be mindful in any moment of your life, whether you're sitting at your desk, riding the subway, or perusing the grocery shelves.  Just being fully engaged in the moment - noticing the sights and sounds of your surroundings, and taking stock of your mood - is being mindful.  While it may not take any longer to walk through a doorway mindfully, the relationship you have with that action is very different if you are fully aware as you do it compared with being on auto-pilot.

Meditation on the other hand, is an exercise through which you can practice being mindful. In other words, mindfulness is a way of being, and meditation is something you can do regularly to get better at it.  

    Fortunately for those of us with too much to do, and too little time, being more mindful doesn't require goal setting, lengthy lists or formal meditation sessions.  In fact, you don't need to add anything to your day to be mindful.  You just have to be more aware moment by moment, as you go through your daily actions.

    Retired Oxford University clinical psychology Professor Mark Williams writes that when practiced regularly, mindfulness has been shown to reduce relapse in people with depression by almost 50%.  Even for the vast majority of people without clinical anxiety or depression, mindfulness offers a way to shift from knee-jerk reactions when confronted by strong emotions, to loving, kind and self-accepting acknowledgement of powerful but highly changeable moods.  

    Since stress has physical ramifications which can harm your longevity, not to mention quality of your life, and mindfulness is a way of reducing the stress you experience, why not give this ancient attitude a try?  Here's a look at many of the ways mindfulness meditation can benefit you.


    Mark Williams and Danny Penman. “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.” Rodale Press. 2011. Also: Correspondence with the author, June 2012.

    Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel. "Mindfulness for Busy People" Pearson 2013.

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