Updated: Mar 23
Written by: INDEAL Cares Guest Blogger: David Bryan, Chopra Center Certified Instructor
These days we all hear a lot about meditation and mindfulness, but what are they really? Are they the same or different?
We can also ask ourselves: Is this all just fluff, or is there any real value in it?
It is certainly true that some articles we read about meditation and mindfulness come across as fluffy or superficial articles, but that doesn’t mean that the practices themselves are superficial fluff.
Many people report subjective benefits such as feeling calmer and more relaxed, but beyond this, scientific studies have also documented physical benefits of meditation and mindfulness, including counteracting the effects of chronic stress by promoting decreased heart rate, normalization of blood pressure, reduced stress hormones, and strengthened immunity.
Other studies have found evidence that long term meditation may actually result in physical changes in the brain, measurably thickening certain brain regions.
Of course, in some ways the most important kind of study is the kind an individual does for themselves, to get their own answer to the question: if I try meditation and mindfulness myself, do I find I receive any benefit?
Are meditation and mindfulness the same, or different? One helpful distinction can be made by way of a metaphor with basketball. Basketball players do two things: on some days they practice, and on other days they play games. The purpose of practice is to develop and improve skills, and then those skills are applied during games, which is when they really matter. So, the purpose of practice is to improve performance during games.
Using this analogy, we can think of “meditation” as what is done for “practice”; to develop skills, and then think of ”mindfulness” as the act of applying those skills in the regular living of your life, which is when it really matters.
What skills are we talking about? There are many skills that can be developed by different styles of meditation, but two important core skills are:
Focus: the ability to choose a single point of focus for your attention, and hold it there, despite distractions (including the skill of returning to the chosen focus after distractions inevitably occur).
Self-awareness: the ability to be clearly aware of what is going on in your own mind, which allows you to assess whether it’s helping you or hindering you.
Meditation practice strengthens these skills, while mindfulness is applying the skills in the usual activities of our daily lives. Thought of this way, meditation and mindfulness work together, hand in glove, to maximize the benefits of both.
In future blog posts, we’ll take a closer look both meditation and mindfulness, and how you could conduct your own experiments with exploring their benefits in your own life.
For now, there are a number of helpful apps that can help you to get started with meditation, including Insight Timer, which is available for download at the Apple Store and at Google Play. If you are interested in books on meditation, consider Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren.
Learn more about David Bryan here.