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An Introduction to Meditation and Mindfulness

Like Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness were once considered obscure. You may have even known someone who practiced them, but these traditions were thought of as strange and exotic. Now, Meditation and Mindfulness are catchy buzzwords, featured as social media hashtags and in online articles. They have become common place, household topics. They are used in everyday, casual conversation, but how many people actually know what they are? What do they mean? Where did they come from? Are they the same thing? How do we practice them? Will they help us live happier, better lives?

This is the first blog in our series on Meditation and Mindfulness. In this series, we will answer all of those questions and many more. Today, we will take a deeper look at what they are, where they originated and how they differ. In future blogs, we will explore some of the different types of Meditation and Mindfulness activities you could try, as well as what science has revealed about these topics- things like health, stress reduction, neuroplasticity, peak performance, etc. Stay tuned for more in depth articles in the future. 

So, what are Meditation and Mindfulness? Are they the same thing?

Meditation and Mindfulness are two words that are often used as if they are interchangeable and the same thing, but are they? The answer is sort of... They are related, but not identical. Mindfulness is kind of like a subcategory within Meditation and is a quality one can build from meditation (but it is not the only way to become more mindful). 

Meditation is an activity, it is a thing one does. Meditation refers to the formal act of meditating. It is used to gain awareness, achieve mental clarity, emotional calm and a stable state of mind. It can be defined as actively experiencing conditions such as, but not limited to, "contemplation" and "introspection;" but those descriptors seem a bit underwhelming for something as impactful as a meditation practice. It usually has a purpose or goal, such as calming oneself, curating inner peace, creating compassion or increasing focus. Meditation is a way to train the mind, much like exercise does for the body.

Mindfulness on the other hand is a quality or state of being, rather than a thing one does. Mindfulness is being consciously aware of your own current conditions, including things like thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR (Mindfulness Bases Stress Reduction), defines Mindfulness as "the awareness that arises when we non-judgmentally pay attention in the present moment. It cultivates access to core aspects of our own minds and bodies that our very sanity depends on.” 

So, Meditation is more like a verb, defined as the activity or process of training one's mind. Mindfulness is more like an adjective, described as a way of being that one can achieve through the act of meditating.

Meditation

There are essentially two main types of Meditation, focused Meditation and open-monitoring Meditation. We will take a more thorough look at some of the different methods and goals of Meditation in upcoming articles in this series. 

  • Focused or concentrative types of Meditation are when we learn to train our attention and become hyper focused on a sensation, image, thought, etc. The focus could be on things like the breath, a mantra, or even a candle flame.
  • Open-monitoring Meditation, sometimes called Mindfulness Meditation, is where we become aware of things as they arise, without a focus or judgement. This is when we let a thought come into our minds, recognize it, and then let it go without ruminating on it.

Some types of Meditation use just one aspect and some use elements of both. Regardless of the type of meditation practiced, all meditation is about increasing awareness. 

MINDFULNESS

The three steps to Mindfulness (from positivepsychology.com and presented by Deidre Dattoli) are outlined below:

  • Step 1: Step Out of Autopilot
  • Step 2: Become Aware of Your Breath
  • Step 3: Expand Your Awareness Outward
You can incorporate these practices into your daily life in pretty much any situation or circumstance. You can walk mindfully, by concentrating on each step you take; how you place your foot, where the pressure is applied, finding balance, etc. Walking slowly, with awareness and without rushing. You can eat mindfully, by actively looking at each bite, smelling it, tasting it fully, chewing proficiently and taking space between bites. You can talk mindfully by thinking before you speak; taking the time to answer in conversations without interrupting and diligently and intently listening to the other person. Or, recognizing when to not speak. Regular, daily Meditation practice results in the increased ability to actively live your life in a mindful way. 

Where did the practices of Meditation and Mindfulness come from?

Scholars date writings about meditation to approximately 1,500 BCE and Archaeologists date meditation back to about 5,000BCE. However, one could speculate that practices we would recognize as meditation go back much further in human history. It appears that people have been practicing meditation all over the world, for thousands of years.

It is not surprising that the earliest writings about meditation came from India, given that they are such an integral part of their spiritual paths and culture. India being the birth place of Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism and the other Dharmic religions. However, India was not the only place to develop forms of meditation. China's meditation practices also have very early roots. Ancient China and India had a lot of cross pollination in terms of philosophy and health practices (compare their traditional medicine systems, Chakras, etc.).

Although Meditation and Mindfulness practices are most often equated with the East, in reality, cultures all over the globe do and have practiced meditation. Many of the monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam also had sects and lineages that practiced meditation, such as the Sufis and Kabbalah. Additionally, groups as far removed as the Ancient Greek Stoics, Pagans, Druids and Shamanistic peoples also practiced meditation.

Conclusion

Meditation and Mindfulness are ever increasing in popularity. Meditation is an activity that allows one to hone and train their mind. The practice of Meditation can result in many things, one of which is the quality or state of being known as Mindfulness. A daily Meditation practice has been proven to have many positive effects, including an increased inner calmness and sense of well being.

If you already practice Meditation, we do not need to tell you about the potential it has to change your life. If you have never tried Meditation, we hope you will make an effort to give it a go (and maybe a second as well). Meditation can feel frustrating at the start, but once you get it, the depth of peace and serenity, as well as the power to find harmony within yourself and your life, are nothing short of amazing. We believe the proof is in the pudding. Do yourself a favor by understanding that the act of Meditation is a Practice, not a Perfect. It is not an activity to be judged, like you doing it correctly or incorrectly. It is an activity that will become more fulfilling with time.

Also, if you are not spiritual, not to worry, there are now many secular, non religious or spiritual forms of meditation and mindfulness available.

In this blog, we have given you just a brief introduction to what Meditation and Mindfulness are, and what they mean to us here at Lotus Tribe Clothing. In the upcoming blogs in this series, we will examine what science has to say about these practices, as well as some of the different types of Meditation and Mindfulness modalities you can try. Wishing you all the peace and contentment that these practices can bring to your life.