By Melissa Sulkowski and Melanie Lichtinger, licensed professional counselors
Posted on GoErie.com on September 29, 2019
Mindfulness and meditation are very different practices that help you reach similar goals.
Mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably, but they are different. Both help calm the mind and body. Both allow you to feel more awake inside and out as you relate to the world around you, and mindfulness and meditation can benefit your life and the lives of those around you.
Mindfulness is an informal practice, meaning it can be done anywhere and at any time. Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment awareness of what is occurring in the mind and body. It is the practice of focusing attention on emotions and thoughts in the present moment while not judging them.
Painful situations are difficult to tolerate. Our initial reaction is to try to stop the pain or “make it go away.” Resistance to feeling only gives the situation more power. Shifting your focus and allowing yourself to experience the emotion opens the door to healing.
Meditation is a formal practice of mindfulness. Meditation targets one singular thing (an object, part of the body or emotion) in the present moment. This allows the mind and body to enter into a state of relaxation. When someone meditates, their brain naturally releases serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine: the “feel-good hormones.” These naturally occurring hormones improve mood.
When something stressful happens in life, the brain automatically senses danger and immediately releases cortisol. Over time, the body can manifest stress as physical symptoms such as stomach aches, muscle tension and a racing heart. The practice of meditation trains the brain to relax, thus reducing the intensity of the stress response.
Meditations can be guided by listening to someone’s voice, listening to calming music or in silence. There are many different apps available for meditation. In SightTimer is one of the choices.
Now that you have a better understanding, you may be thinking “How does this apply to me?” If you feel stressed, out of control on the inside or like your emotions control you, mindfulness and meditation can help. Living in the present moment increases your awareness and empowers you to manage your thoughts, emotions and actions.
The benefits of mindfulness and meditation don’t stop there. By learning and integrating both practices into your life you can decrease anxiety, stress, depression and anger. When you expand your awareness and become present, your life has more balance. You will experience an improvement in your mood, more relaxation and an opportunity for more joy.
As mindfulness and meditation become part of your daily practice, you begin to gain clarity in how you relate to the world around you. The more aware and connected you are within yourself, the more proficient you become at differentiating what is your emotional need and what is not. As a result, the actions of others begin to have less of an impact on your emotional and physical well-being.
Keep in mind that experiences in relation to others live in our nervous system. For example, when you experience grief and loss, it is not just current fears that affect you. There is typically a past experience, positive or negative, that is on repeat in the mind. In other words, a story is created for the mind to make sense of it. Through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, the emotional dimensions of our experiences can be explored and the stories can be rewritten.
When you combine the neuroscience and the teachings of mindfulness and meditation, there is a fantastic answer within. The ability to relate in a meaningful manner to the outside world expands. It becomes a shared energy in our relationships. This has a global impact; hence it is our human responsibility to do so. Now, go sit with yourself and honor all that you are. Remember this quote from Helen Keller: “What I am looking for is not out there. It is in me.”