A recent study found that meditating can give you more control over your emotions, even if you’re not naturally good at being mindful.
Reporting in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, psychology researchers recorded the brain activity of people looking at disturbing pictures immediately after meditating for the first time. These participants were able to tame their negative emotions just as well as participants who were naturally mindful.
“Our findings not only demonstrate that meditation improves emotional health, but that people can acquire these benefits regardless of their ‘natural’ ability to be mindful,” said Yanli Lin, a Michigan State University graduate student and lead investigator of the study. “It just takes some practice.”
Now, this is all very interesting, but I was a little confused by Lin’s statement. Don’t you have to be mindful to meditate? Aren’t they both just sitting still and trying not to think thoughts?!
As someone who would LOVE to gain greater control over her emotions, I decided to take a look at the difference between, and benefits of, the two practices.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is an action. It’s an activity through which we teach our brains how to be quiet, concentrate and be aware of thoughts and emotions. It’s something we, in today’s overstimulated world have to practice on a regular basis in order to improve.
“Practicing concentration as we do in meditation requires some force of will. There’s a reason Buddhists build meditation halls and monasteries. They try to create an environment free of distraction,” writes the founder of OMG I Can Meditate! (an app I highly recommend).
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of being. When we live mindfully, we strive to be aware of each moment, and what’s happening within it, as it passes. Mindfulness requires no solitude, music or guidance. For some people, like those mentioned in the study above, mindfulness doesn’t even take practice.
It’s “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment,” explains mindfulness expert Dr. John Kabat-Zinn.
So mindfulness is a requirement for meditation, but the converse isn’t necessarily true. No matter which one you’re “better” at, there are benefits to be had, including improved social relationships, reduced anxiety and depression, and a better response to stress!