The answer is mind-blowing—and yes, pun fully intended.
It seems like everyone’s rolling out their yoga mats, Instagramming "be mindful, be here now" messages, and drinking the metaphorical (green) Kool-Aid.
But just because wellness has officially reached the masses doesn’t make it any less confusing. It’s complicated, majorly heady stuff—especially when it comes to nuanced concepts like the difference between meditation and mindfulness. To help you clear up the confusion once and for all and, thus, score an "OM run" at your wellness game (ba-dum-ch), we checked in with mindfulness expert Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., author of The Now Effect and designer of the Mindfulness at Work program.
First things first: The main reason that people tend to confuse mindfulness with meditation is that both of them have multiple definitions, and they’re also intertwined in various ways. In other words, it's totally understandable if you only kinda sorta vaguely know the almost difference.
Let's Start with Meditation
“At its core, meditation is when you intentionally set aside time to do something good for yourself,” explains Goldstein. And that’s all! Really. As long as you’re doing something good for you on purpose, whatever it is that may be, that’s meditation. “For instance, there’s exercise meditation, in which you intentionally set out to exercise to clear your mind," says Goldstein. "There’s prayer meditation, when you intentionally send prayers out to the universe. There’s music meditation, where the whole purpose is to relax you, and the list goes on."
So Here's Where the Mix-Up Happens
The confusion lies in the fact that one of the most well known types of meditation is mindfulness meditation. “Mindfulness is basically just being aware, and can be practiced both informally and formally—which is what many people don’t understand," says Goldstein. "When you’re practicing it informally, that means that you’re simply attempting to be more aware in everything that you do—and that mentality can be infused into pretty much anything. But the formal practice of mindfulness is mindfulness meditation."
So wait. What’s mindfulness meditation, then? “That’s when you intentionally pay attention to whatever is here in the moment," explains Goldstein. "The goal is to learn to be really present, to the point that when you feel yourself reacting a certain way in the moment later on, you’re so aware of the now that you're then able to take a step back, and literally change your knee-jerk reaction so you do something in a different way."
Phew! But here's a quick nutshell summary, just because it's definitely complicated: Meditation is when you intentionally set aside time to do something that’s good for you, and there are all kinds of meditations. Mindfulness is both a general awareness of the world and a formal meditation practice. It’s two things, not one. Meditation and mindfulness overlap in mindfulness meditation, which is one of the most popular types of meditation.
Want even more info? Check out these other articles about mindfulness and meditation—you’ll probably understand them a whole lot better!