The Differences Between Mindfulness and Meditation

You’ve made a commitment to take your health back into your own hands. Part of this commitment is practicing meditation, which you’ve heard is great for alleviating stress and helping your sleep better. Nice one! But what’s this you keep hearing about mindfulness? 

Both mindfulness and meditation are two common references in the alternative health blogosphere. People know that they’re good for your health, have plenty of scientific studies to back them up and that they need to get more of them in their lives. But very few people actually stop to wonder what the difference is between mindfulness and meditation. Are they the same thing with a different name? Or are they two completely separate entities?

# Meditation can help you lose weight

Most people can think back to a time when they suffered an emotional mishap of some kind. Perhaps it was breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and you turned immediately to that tub of ice cream in the freezer. This form of binge eating can lead to some serious weight gain. Luckily, meditation has the answer. This study found that “mindfulness meditation effectively decreases binge eating and emotional eating.”

# Meditation improves productivity

study published in the journal Academy of Management found that Transcendental Meditation® can make a big difference in the workplace. Study participants who adopted Transcendental Meditation® showed increased job satisfaction, improved work performance and improved relationships with the people they worked with.

# Meditation improves your mood

This one probably comes as no surprise to you! Meditation has repeatedly been found by scientific study to have positive effects on both anxiety and depression. A 2012 study found that people who practice Buddhist meditation have quantifiably more positive outlooks on life. They are also more able to solve problems and have greater mental flexibility than those who don’t.

Benefits of mindfulness

Because mindfulness can be a form of meditation, you can also enjoy many of the same benefits. One of the most commonly studied aspects of mindfulness is its ability to reduce anxiety. A 2013 study at Massachusetts General Hospital demonstrated just that.
Researchers assigned 93 people with generalized anxiety disorder to either a mindfulness-based stress reduction program or a control group. The group who partook in the mindfulness program experienced significantly greater anxiety reduction than the control group. Not surprisingly, that same group also had lower levels of stress and a greater increase in positive self-statements.
Beyond simple mood and emotions, however, mindfulness can actually improve the way you think. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Consciousness and Cognition examined the effect of mindfulness meditation on cognition of study participants. After four mindfulness sessions, the mindfulness group showed improvements in mood, reduction in fatigue and anxiety… and increased mindfulness (duh!). Not only that, “brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory and executive functioning.” This means that practicing mindfulness can literally increase your brainpower.

# Eliminating distractions

The most important benefit of mindfulness, in my opinion at least, is its ability to cut out distractions. Our world is increasingly filled with technological chaos. There’s phones beeping, computers pinging, tv’s buzzing and any number of other things crying out for our attention. Mindfulness really comes into its own in such a chaotic environment, helping you to concentrate on what really matters and give your mind a much-needed spring cleaning.
A Harvard-based study put 12 healthy volunteers through an eight-week “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.” At the end of the eight weeks, participants showed “faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm.” According to researchers, “alpha rhythm is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain’s outermost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.” In essence, mindfulness re-wires your ability to cut out anything you don’t really need to think or worry about.

How to get started

If you’re interested in trying out either meditation or a more mindful way of life, take a measured approach. Committing to anywhere between five and 10 minutes per day can make a huge difference to your life. Practicing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis can help you to become more mindful throughout the rest of the day.
Reevaluate after a week of daily meditation. See whether you’d like to change things up or if you’re happy with your chosen course. If you struggle to achieve a state of meditation, try finding a well-reviewed meditation app on your smartphone or tablet.
Keep an open mind and look forward to reaping all those health benefits!
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