You only need to have a quick scroll through Instagram to know that all things ‘wellness’ are everywhere these days. It seems that along with yoga, juicing and chia seeds, meditation and mindfulness are no longer considered to be the preserve of just us yogis.
With everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Russell Brand proclaiming their benefits it’s clear that these practices have been fully embraced as key tools to help us all navigate the stresses of modern life and look after our mental health. The numbers speak for themselves-25 million people are said to have downloaded the Headspace meditation app.
So we know mindfulness and meditation benefit both your mental and physical health. But with them often being referred to together and appearing interchangeable, what’s the difference between the two?
First up, meditation:
Put simply, the act of meditation is when you intentionally dedicate time to focus on your inner self. By closing off from the distractions around you, either by focussing on a guided meditation, your breath or a mantra, you become more aware of your body, your breath and your thoughts. You learn to shut down the mental chatter and find peace by listening to yourself. You become more aware of how you feel in that moment. (Buddhists describe those unsettled thoughts which endlessly jump around as your ‘monkey mind’)
But there are so many different styles of meditation
Indeed there are many different styles of meditation (including mindfulness meditation-just to further confuse things.) Making the habit of setting aside as little as 10 minutes a day and finding a quiet space where you can sit and meditate can be life-changing. Regular meditation is credited for having positive effects on your emotional and mental wellbeing, improving your relationships both with others and yourself, and your sleep patterns. Try practising first thing in the morning before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. This can help you get in the right headspace and filled with good intentions, while meditating in the evening helps ensure you won’t take any of the stresses and worries of your day to bed with you. As you practice more you will train yourself to meditate for longer each time.
And then we have mindfulness:
While meditation focuses on the inner self-with the aim of quietening the mind, think of mindfulness as consciously being more fully present; making the effort to be more aware of where you are, what you’re doing and what’s around you.
It’s easy to rush through so much of daily life without really being present in what we’re doing. We act as if on autopilot as we get to where we need to be, desperately trying to tick things off the list and multi-task as we go. How often do you find yourself quickly answering an email on your phone as you run a bath for your kids or cook dinner, or making phone calls while walking the dog? As well as not really enjoying the present for what it is, this state of distraction also means we’re not really aware of ourselves either. We’re not registering how we are feeling or reacting to experiences as they happen, and missing the basic signals our bodies give off when we are overtired, stressed or even hungry.
Whenever you remind yourself to be aware of what you’re experiencing by engaging fully with your thoughts, emotions or physical sensations, you are being mindful. And the great thing is that while some people will find it easier to practice than others, mindfulness is available to you at any given moment on any given day-no matter where you are or who you’re with.
It sounds complicated!
Mindfulness needn’t be complicated. It can be as simple as stopping to notice the sensation of the warmth of the sun on your skin as you wait at the bus stop. Or listening to snatches of laughter and clinking of glasses in the breeze on a summer’s evening. It can be really savouring every mouthful of a lovingly prepared meal, or taking in a big lungful of sea air on a walk. It can be making eye contact and really connecting with a friend as you talk. By making some small daily changes and allowing yourself the space to be aware of your present you can positively change how you view yourself and all that’s in your life- and take more pleasure from it.
Best of both
It’s easy to build practicing meditation and mindfulness into your daily life to help you find calm and effectively manage stress and anxiety, and working together they will enhance each other, helping you to feel happier and more content.