Is there a difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness includes meditation practice drawn from Buddhist traditions. When teaching the skills of mindfulness it is common to teach meditation techniques that focus primarily on observing what is going on in the body or mind. This kind of meditation makes its focus the “felt experience” of the individual. This can be affirming and empowering as one’s own experience is always with us and is used as a healthy ground for learning about living in the moment. It helps people develop increased emotional regulation (the ability to manage emotions up or down) by introducing them to what is going on in their bodies, minds and emotions and helping them see how to stay with that experience long enough to respond wisely.

This meditation is sometimes called “formal practice” is often of a prescribed or decided length, done sitting or lying or standing in a deliberate posture, with or without guidance to stay with the practice. We are practicing directing and sustaining the attention and in doing so developing the muscle of attention and becoming familiar with our capacity for awareness and unawareness.

But formal meditation is not the only way to practice mindfulness. The quality of awareness cultivated in formal practice can also be brought to daily activity by becoming “mindful”. Research suggests that about half the time we are not really aware of what we are doing http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_mind_wandering_make_you_unhappy, instead our actions are on autopilot while our minds think about something else. It’s a useful state to be able to enter but if the mind is, for instance, constantly worrying about the past or the future it can be exhausting and demoralising. We literally miss the experience of living the life we have in the moments we have.

Informal practice or becoming “mindful” might include might include really listening to our children or friends as they ask us questions or tell us their thoughts rather than thinking about chores that need to be done or what we will say next. It can be dropping in to present moment experience while washing up: feeling the hot water, the weight of the plate and watching the water run off. It can even be just stopping to feel our feet on the ground as we stand waiting at the bus stop or zebra crossing. Informal practice typically lasts for shorter periods of time but is done more frequently than formal practice and can bring a real sense of the joy of being alive.