Mindfulness vs. Meditation: What’s the Difference?

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Mindfulness and meditation are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they're not exactly the same. Still, both practices can be intertwined as we try to become more grounded and self-aware in our lives.

Mindfulness is the mental state in which you focus your awareness on the present. Meditation is a tool we can use to develop a regular practice of mindfulness.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is being present in the moment without judgment. That means you’re not dwelling on a past problem at work or projecting into the future about a family vacation you still need to buy plane tickets for.

When you’re mindful, you can acknowledge your emotions, but you’re not being critical or stressing yourself out. Being mindful also means paying attention to your breathing and the sensations in your body. You’re totally living in the “now.”

How Mindfulness Is Used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Psychologists often use Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) which incorporates mindfulness to treat patients with emotional regulation challenges and self-destructive behaviors.

The core components of the therapy involve mindfulness. Patients are guided on how to suspend judgment, manage distress and calmly focus on healthy coping skills.  

According to recent research on partial hospital program stays, the use of DBT reduces patients’ problematic mental health symptoms. The study aimed to measure reduction in the symptoms as well as see how it’s tied in with mindfulness skill acquisition. Results showed that as the learning of mindfulness increased, it made a significant difference in reducing the patients’ symptoms of depression and anxiety from intake to discharge.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a tool or practice employed to cultivate mindfulness. Meditation is an intentional practice that calms you down, helps you concentrate on being aware, and helps you achieve emotional balance.

It often begins with a dedicated focus on deep breathing. Deep breathing activates the vagus nerve, which regulates digestion, heart rate as well as respiratory rate.

Types of Meditation

You are not limited to one way of meditating. You can choose from a variety of meditations if you are seeking to begin a practice. Here is a list of popular kinds of meditation:

  • Breath-awareness meditation: This involves your focus on different breathing techniques.
  • Loving-kindness meditation: This involves your focus on yourself and loved ones while thinking kind and caring thoughts
  • Mantra-based meditation: This involves chanting a word or phrase, aloud or in your mind.
  • Visualization meditation: This involves using mental imagery for relaxation and to calm your mind.
  • Movement meditation: This involves focusing on body parts and movement as you take a walk.
  • Body-scan meditation: This involves scanning the body and noticing physical sensations.
  • Focus meditation: This involves focusing attention on a specific object, sound or your breathing.

What Is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?

Jon Kabat-Zin, Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, founded the world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic (in 1979).

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a popular 8-week mindfulness training program and meditation therapy. Participants are guided by an instructor. You’ll learn about breathing, gratitude, meditation and yoga. The goal of MBSR is to bring people into the present moment without judgment. The benefits include reduced stress, pain, and depression.

One recent study urged using mindfulness and meditation during crises like Covid 19. The study reiterated that systematic reviews of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practices have shown improvements in the measures of people’s anxiety, depression and pain.

The brains of those who had developed a long-term meditation practice and those who completed a MBSR program even showed structural and functional changes. Offering a mindfulness and meditation practice is low-cost and can complement other treatments.

How to Be Mindful Without Meditating

You don’t have to sit in a lotus position or practice any of the various forms of meditation we mentioned in order to be mindful. If you have no interest in meditating, there are other ways to embrace mindfulness. Deepak Chopra says, “When you are consciously bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment,” you are developing mindfulness.  

To practice mindfulness, start by noticing your everyday life through your senses:

  • Savor that delicious dark chocolate as you eat slowly.
  • Listen to the birds as you walk to your car.
  • Look at the sunset and appreciate it.
  • Feel how happy you are after hugging your partner.

Whatever you’re doing at work or at home, set your intention to doing one thing at a time. Engage fully in whatever activity it is without distractions or interruptions. So, if you’re working on an important report for your boss, don’t check your social media and then make a phone call about the office Christmas party. Engage fully in one activity as it’s happening. That’s being mindful.

Another way you can practice mindfulness is through mindful eating. At night, we might watch a Netflix movie while we eat dinner. We’re not paying attention to the food or taking time to enjoy it. Mindful eating requires us to slow down and pay attention to our food’s textures and flavors. Then check in to see if we’re full. With mindful eating, we are aligned with the experience of eating and enjoying a good meal.

Other Easy Ways to Bring Mindfulness Into Daily Life

In our fast-paced world, it might seem difficult to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life, so try these simple actions to ease your way into becoming more mindful:

  • Slow down
  • Use your senses in your surroundings
  • Accept yourself without criticism or judgment
  • Focus on your breathing

You can practice mindfulness in your relationships, too. When someone you love talks to you, use these tips:

  • Practice active listening
  • Don’t rush to judgment
  • Use empathy
  • Don’t multitask while the other person talks

Also, if this is something new and different for you, be kind to yourself. Like anything new, it can take time to try it, be patient with yourself.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mochrie, K. D., Lothes, J., Quickel, E. J. W., St John, J., & Carter, C. From the hospital to the clinic: The impact of mindfulness on symptom reduction in a DBT partial hospital program. 2019. Journal of Clinical Psychology75(7), 1169–1178.

  2. Behan, C. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 2020. 37(4), 256–258.

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.