Many times I’ve been in a yoga class and the terms mindfulness and concentration are used interchangeably. While there is overlap between them, I wouldn’t consider them the same, but I would consider them related. To satisfy my curiosity, I looked up both words.
Concentration – the action or power of focusing one’s attention or mental effort.
Mindfulness – a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations
Now that the definitions are set, I want to explore how they are related and more importantly how they are dependent on each other for self-improvement, meditation and living in general.
For me, mindfulness is all about quality of life and quality of awareness. Being mindful in what I do, when I communicate and interact with others and even when I do nothing enhances my experience and I’ve been told that others I’m interacting with feel a higher quality of connection with me when I’m completely present with them.
Mindfulness is something that takes practice. For me, it isn’t something that just happens like breathing or my heart beating. Mindfulness is also more of a spiritual or life practice aimed at allowing me to change deeply (or not so deeply) rooted things such as habits, or habitual responses. I use mindfulness as a mirror to decide how I can shift from where I am to where I want to be.
In short, to be mindful, I need to concentrate. Mindfulness takes a lot of effort. Mindfulness, as it’s practiced, enhances concentration.
Concentration on the other hand has different levels for me. There is one level where I am focused on something to the near exclusion of everything else around me, such as a project or task (deadlines are great motivation for this type of concentration). This isn’t mindfulness, but pure, raw concentration and will power. Another level of concentration involves mindfulness; using concentration to become mindful and sustain that mindfulness.
The act of consciously reminding myself to be mindful and to return to being mindful when I get distracted or my mind wanders requires concentration, discipline and a huge dose of forgiveness. The good news is that the more practice is put into concentrating, the more concentration grows and the easier it becomes to concentrate; both on the little detailed tasks and in other pursuits such as developing mindfulness.
I’ve found that the two concepts go hand in hand. Concentration is required for mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness builds and enhances concentration. They feed each other and as one grows, so does the other. The reverse is also true. As my concentration wanders, it becomes increasingly more difficult to be mindful. And if I don’t practice being mindful, it becomes more difficult to concentrate.
From the outside it looks a little like the chicken and egg conundrum; which one needs to come first? I don’t think it matters. Work on them both. You can alternate and focus on one for a period of time, then the other. In my experience, it really doesn’t seem to matter. They feed and support each other. If you are looking for a way to move into a life of being more aware, more alert and more present, work on concentration and mindfulness. Set your intention, your goal and start the journey. What awaits is a rich and vibrant experience.