A recent study at Harvard found that 46.9 % of people spend their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing in the present moment. So what are we doing when we are present with time? We are thinking of the past, projecting the future and allowing our brain to run on autopilot. Mindfulness, meditation and yoga are all methods of practice that can help us stay in the present moment.
One of the adaptations humans have many over the millions of years of evolution is to use our procedural memory (autopilot) to do our day to day tasks without thinking, it isn’t always a bad thing and has allowed us to learn how to multi task. However let’s look at what happens when we are doing something like eating breakfast and ruminating on a story or thinking about what to wear. Sometimes these things don’t necessarily affect our day to day life or wellbeing; however, as many of us know our mind connects to our nervous system and our thoughts can create stress in the body. Let's continue with the breakfast example. If I am eating breakfast and I am focused on what I am wearing that day, perhaps I have a board meeting or a new client, my brain sends signals to my body that I am feeling worried or stressed. If my mind sends signals to my body that I am feeling stress then my body responds by putting its energy into the automatic nervous system to help me cope with my stress. Digestion mainly happens when the body is calm and in a parasympathetic state, so if we are worrying at breakfast over our clothing we will create issues with our digestion (there is a much bigger conversation of gut-mind, but for this post, we will stop here). Based on this one example we can see how our mind focusing on something other than what we are doing can cause problems.
So what is the solution? Mindfulness, meditation and yoga can all help us be more present at the moment but what are the main differences.
Let's start with mindfulness:
Mindfulness can be described as paying attention in the present moment, on purpose and without judgment according to John Kabat-Zinn. It can be practiced anywhere, anytime and with anyone. Practicing mindfulness is when you are noticing or paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, movements, behaviors and also the affect you have on those around you. It is about being fully engaged in the here and now. Most of the time when we are doing something, we are thinking about something else. When you're mindful, you are actively involved in the activity with all of your senses instead of allowing your mind to wander.
Mindfulness can be practiced both informally (at any time/place) and formally (during seated meditation). Where meditation practice happens for a specific amount of time, mindfulness can occur in any situation throughout the day.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a formal practice where one intentionally sits and focuses inwards to increase calmness, concentration and emotional balance. It is done for a predetermined amount of time and usually has a focal point like the breath or a mantra (phrase), and you work with that to bring the mind back and give it a place to focus on. The mind will wander; it is not about stopping thoughts. It is more about sitting and being an observer. There are many different styles and formats available to have a meditation practice, like apps, techniques even a formal mindfulness practice can be meditation.
So how does yoga fit in?
Yoga is the union of mind, body and spirit. It is the act of making whole or bringing all parts of ourselves together. Therefore meditation and mindfulness are acts of yoga. When most of us refer to yoga, we are referring to the physical practice of yoga; this is just one of the many areas that yoga can unite us. If we further explore the physical practice of yoga, its original intention was to prepare the body for a seated practice. To sit in meditation one's joints and muscles need to be mobile and flexible. So yoga helps prepare the body for meditation. As mindfulness can occur anywhere and anytime, our physical yoga practice can be a place where we practice mindfulness through breath and present moment awareness.
These are my interpretations of how we can distinguish between all three amazing tools that can help us connect not only with our mind and body but also help us find a balance between our daily lives and being in the moment.