Mindfulness and Meditation: Understanding the Difference and Their Benefits to Mental Health
In recent years, mindfulness and meditation have become increasingly popular as ways to improve mental and emotional wellbeing. While the two concepts are related, they are not the same thing, and it's important to understand the difference between them.
Mindfulness can be defined as the practice of being present and fully engaged in the current moment, without judgment or distraction. It involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, and accepting them as they are, rather than trying to suppress or change them. So it is a mental state achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
Meditation, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to various practices that help cultivate mindfulness and other qualities such as concentration, emotional balance, and self-awareness. Meditation can take many forms, including mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and guided meditation. In meditation exercises, we focus our attention on a specific object, thought, activity (such as breathing), mantra, or visualization, in order to increase our awareness and focus, while letting go of distracting thoughts and emotions.
So put simply, mindfulness is a state of awareness, and meditation is a technique used to attain mindfulness.
Light Watkins is a renowned mindfulness and meditation teacher (you can check him out here, and he has an excellent interview with Dr Chatterjee here). He explains that mindfulness and meditation are like two sides of the same coin, saying that mindfulness is like a muscle that can be developed through the practice of meditation.
As we meditate, we strengthen our ability to be mindful in our daily lives, and as we bring mindfulness into our daily lives, we deepen our meditation practice.
The benefits of mindfulness and meditation to mental health are well documented. Research shows us that these practices can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve sleep quality, and increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Mindfulness and meditation can also help us develop a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation which allows us to better understand and manage our thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
Mindfulness, as a mental state of being present and non-judgmental, can complement CBT by helping us gain greater insight into our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. This deeper understanding can help us identify mindsets and behaviours that may be contributing to our emotional and psychological distress. So by incorporating mindfulness into therapy we can develop a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional regulation, leading to more effective and lasting change, particularly acceptance and self-compassion. Additionally, by practicing meditation regularly between therapy sessions, we can develop and enhance our resilience and coping skills, both of which are important components of mental health; meaning that meditation can play a supportive role in the overall process of therapy and enhance its benefits.
If you're struggling at the moment, perhaps consider trying to establish a daily mindfulness meditation habit. It is easier to start than it once was due to the help of modern technology – there are numerous apps available to help you get started. Particular favourites of mine are Smiling Mind and Medito, which are both free. With time and practice, you may find that these tools can help you lead a happier and more fulfilling life.
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