The path to self-improvement is an honorable one. Those looking for physical gains will find no shortage of exercises designed to promote enhanced muscles and faster sprints. When looking for your personal best, however, one also needs devotion to mental health. Mindfulness and meditation are two places worth looking into.
Here, we explore what they are, how they differ, and most importantly, how they can help you.
What Are Mindfulness and Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation are two methods we can use to connect with a deeper part of ourselves. When you are going about your daily life with its various routines and struggles, it’s easy to lose touch with the state of things beneath the surface.
As men, we can be very task-oriented. That doesn’t mean we are inherently out of touch with our emotions. It could just mean that we are focused on our goals. We may pay less attention to our mental state as we cross those metaphorical (or literal) finish lines we set for ourselves.
The body and mind work in tandem like a well-oiled machine. Like any machine, without regular maintenance, it will begin to lose functionality and eventually stop working properly. When it comes to physical health, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle helps to keep us up and running.
Mindfulness and meditation serve the same function for our psychological well-being. They are the oil that keeps the gears turning smoothly.
How Do the Two Differ From One Another?
The differences between meditation and mindfulness are subtle but distinct. Ultimately it can be condensed down to this: mindfulness is something you have, whereas meditation is something you do.
Mindfulness is directing attention toward a certain moment or feeling and being aware of one’s general state of being. The health benefits of mindfulness are tangible and seen through brain scans in a Harvard research study. This study revealed that those who regularly practice mindfulness are more likely to have a calmer amygdala, even while not meditating.
Meditation is less specific. While meditation can be targeted (like meditating on a certain personality trait like kindness or acceptance), it tends to be less precise and more of an all-encompassing mental grounding exercise.
It’s the difference between directing focus at something versus honing your ability to maintain focus in general. You can even meditate on mindfulness if you choose to do so. Just clear your mind of everything save for that one concept, then focus on what it means to you and how you can apply it in your life.
Meditation can take many forms and serve many functions. It is an ancient practice that predates even some of the most archaic religions and creeds.
In human history, meditation was often tied to chanting or similar practices. Participants would collectively enter a trance-like state to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Meditation has undergone some changes to assimilate with modern society. However, the fundamentals have remained the same for thousands of years.
Mindfulness is very much a modern concept. It’s like targeted meditation focusing on something happening in the present. For example, one could direct your focus to center oneself entirely around drinking a cup of tea.
One decides to live in that specific moment, surrounded by the aroma and savoring the taste. A focused experience puts the mind in a state of relaxation. It’s an excellent way to develop a sense of gratitude for the small things in life that are often taken for granted.
Another way to practice mindfulness is to focus on the breath. Deeply witnessing the sensations of the lungs expanding with air and contracting with the exhale is a prime example of mindfulness.
Mindfulness and meditation are best used together, and each amplifies the other's effects.
Like any practice, meditation cannot be perfected in a single day.
There are steps to learning this deceptively difficult skill:
Comfortable clothes can assist in transcending to a peaceful state—further the comfortable state with a mat or blankets. Ridding the space of external distractions like a phone or laptop is a necessary part of this exercise.
Meditation is a potential doorway to mindfulness. Once the habit of entering a meditative, grounded headspace is established, it will be much easier to practice mindfulness in the outside world.
The ideal outcome of this meditation is a deeper connection with the internal self. Ultimately, mindfulness may become second nature. Mindfulness toes that line between self-reflection and empathy that can be forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the busy world.
Being able to reconnect with that part of the self can be a transformative experience. Being able to connect with the inner spirit fully enriches interactions with the rest of the world.
It’s not just a one-way street. Mindfulness can also be a very effective tool to employ during your meditation. Focusing on specific parts of the body and mind is an exceptional grounding technique to create a mental focal point.
What to Do with Your New State of Mind
Like any exercise, mental or physical, results may take time. With mental exercises like mindfulness and meditation, this can be especially challenging.
Daily practice can encourage the sticking power of all newer habits. Integrate mindfulness into the daily exercise routine with a scenic hike or a new place to run. Listen to the birds chirping and feel the heartbeat as you move through the world around you.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a hyper-focused, isolating activity. Allow yourself to experience the ebb and flow of the lives and scenes unfolding around you.
Some people have integrated mindfulness with these tactics:
Try to experience familiar things with a new perspective.
Share your life and your progress with those close to you.
Be proud of your progress, big and small.
Pick out specific things in your life that you would like to be more mindful of. Setting specific goals ensures that you have tangible evidence of your improvement.
Meditate in times of stress and try to allow things to wash over you in a way that doesn’t become overwhelming.
A Holistic Approach
We are multifaceted people with complexl lives. The idea that there is any single practice that will be the salve for all our woes is, at the very least, unrealistic.
A healthy lifestyle and regular exercise are good and necessary to maintain both body and mind, but it’s not all encompassing.
Meditation and mindfulness cannot be used to the maximum effect in the absence of physical activity. Only when the mental and the physical are honed together can we achieve the balance needed to help us live our lives to the fullest.