You may hear the terms mindfulness and meditation used interchangeably. While they both have important benefits for our well-being and behavioral health, they differ.

Mindfulness can be incorporated into every aspect of life. It is about being aware of what is happening right now rather than being caught up in worries about the past, fears about the future, concerns about what others are thinking, etc.

Meditation is the practice of stopping activity for a designated period of time to focus on clearing your thoughts, often with the assistance of a breathing exercise, repeated phrase or awareness sequence. Meditation can be very difficult at first and only possible for short periods of time.

Simply put, mindfulness is a lifestyle and meditation is an exercise. You may also hear the term mindfulness meditation, which refers to a meditation technique (often guided) that is designed to bring your awareness to the present moment.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

There are several benefits to mindfulness, especially if you find yourself often worrying about the future or things that aren’t in your control.

Rumination is the technical term for this, and it means letting a problem or situation replay in your mind over and over again. Reduced rumination (who couldn’t use some of that right now?!) is one of the benefits of cultivating mindfulness noted in an American Psychological Association study.

Mindfulness can also lead to:

  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Improved working memory capacity
  • Better ability to sustain attention while performing a task
  • A reduction in stress, anxiety and negative outlook
  • Improvement in emotional regulation
  • Cognitive flexibility (the ability to process present inputs in new ways)
  • Increased relationship satisfaction
  • Enhanced immune functioning and well-being
  • Decreased psychological distress.

How can I practice mindfulness?

An example of a mindfulness exercise is to tune into an activity you do all the time to make more of a lifestyle shift.

Try this: When you are brushing your teeth (a time people normally think about other things—what we might say or do or have said or done) pay attention to the sensations of brushing your teeth, the taste of the toothpaste, the feel of the toothbrush in your hand and mouth, the sounds you hear, the smells you smell.

If you become distracted, the first step is noticing that it happened. Often, our mind wanders without us noticing. So once you do, bring your attention back without judgment. This will feel strange at first but the more you do it, the easier it will be.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Research shows that regular meditation:

  • Reduces stress
  • Creates feelings of happiness
  • Helps reduce fear, anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

Meditation allows you to put space between yourself and your thoughts rather than immediately reacting to a thought or placing value on every thought. This space allows for healthy decision-making rather than pure reaction.

Another way to think about meditation: your thoughts are clouds (they pass over you). Meditation allows you to practice letting the clouds pass by without assigning them meaning. The key to this is recognizing that your thoughts are actually separate from you. They are a running tape in your mind. Meditation helps you take a step back from that tape in order to separate yourself from it.

What is a meditative exercise?

An example of a meditative exercise is purposefully setting aside time to focus on quieting the mind.

Try this:

  • Set a timer for 3 minutes.
  • Bring all of your attention to your breathing. Notice the air going in your nostrils and filling your lungs. Then, notice it leaving your lungs and mouth or nostrils. Imagine it is a favorite color if this helps with focus.
  • Thoughts will pop into your head. This is normal. Just notice you have started to think about them and bring your attention back to your breathing again and again. Repeat a simple phrase as you breathe if it helps: “Breathe in, Breathe out.”
  • Continue until the timer goes off.

The goal? To catch when your mind wanders and gently bring it back.

What is the main purpose of meditation, and why is it important to practice mindfulness?

During challenging and overwhelming times, people often yearn for more effective ways to deal with stress.

Turns out, the data shows there is no more effective way to manage stress and worry than learning to shut down the part of your brain that is telling you stories about all the bad things that are going to happen and open up the part of your brain that can focus on the smallest detail of the present moment.

Mindfulness and meditation can work beautifully together, each having its own benefits.

We encourage you to try them! Here are some resources that can help: