It's probably fair to say that lockdown has been one of the most stressful times in many people's lives. Being separated from loved ones and being unable to carry out normal activities - mixed with unprecedented fears over the spread of the virus - has left an awful lot of time for ruminating, allowing anxiety and stress to manifest.
One way to combat this, and to improve mental wellbeing generally, is to practice mindfulness. Meditation apps like Headspace, which encourage you to focus on the here and the now, can be a useful tool in facilitating this. But there's one common misconception about meditation, according to the Headspace founder, Andy Puddicombe: that it's the same thing as mindfulness. In fact, they're two separate entities.
"In the west, mindfulness and meditation are used interchangeably. But they are two really different things," Andy tells Cosmopolitan. So... er, how different are we talking? The former Buddhist monk breaks it down for us.
"Mindfulness is the ability to be present, undistracted with an open curious mind and a kind heart. The gentle, warm kind of feeling," Andy explains. On the other hand, "meditation is an exercise where we learn to be more mindful, but away from everyday life. It’s a little bit like going to the gym and going on the treadmill so we can be fit and active and functional in everyday life," he says.
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So basically, mindfulness is the overarching concept, while meditation is an exercise to help you achieve it. "In meditation we learn how to be mindful, how to be present, and how to be undistracted so we can then apply that in everyday life," Andy adds.
The reason the meditation expert sees the differentiation as being so important is because the time spent doing each one varies. "If we think that meditation is the whole deal, and we only meditate for 10 minutes a day, then there’s 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day that aren’t being addressed."
What Andy believes we should strive for is to achieve mindfulness in as much of our everyday lives as possible, while meditating is just one part of that.
When starting out on your quest to become more mindful, Andy suggests "just choosing one activity for the first week to be present." Using brushing your teeth as an example, the expert suggests taking that time - the brief few minutes - just to be present.
"Treat it as a meditation," advises Andy. "So as you realise your mind has wondered, you acknowledge it, and then you come back again. You’re conscious of the sensation, the taste the smell, all those kinds of things." If you can crack that for a week, then the next week you try a second one.
"Then by the next week you already have meditation, brushing your teeth and a third thing, say it’s drinking your morning cup of tea. You keep doing that over time, and within a few months you have multiple moments of mindfulness throughout the day and you start to feel the stability of awareness."
Separating mindfulness and meditation in this way, Andy says,"will really change your whole perception of what it means to be mindful."
Well, let's give it a go and see if we can introduce a bit more calm into our lives when it's so needed.