Mindful or present: what’s the difference?


Mindfulness can be applied to anything where you’re focusing on the task at hand. To eat mindfully, for example, might include thinking about the farmers who produced this food, the land where it was grown, the truckers, sailors, or robots who transported it, and so on.

I’ve been distinguishing presence from mindfulness as our awareness of the moment… Of—wait for it… the present. Your experience of smelling, chewing, tasting, satiety, and even digestion could live here. In this case all presence is mindfulness but not all mindfulness is presence.

Time is tricky to hold in your hands. The concept itself is a pretty abstract and the (quantum) physics are shaky. Theoretical physicist, Carlo Rovelli, says, “This distinction between past and future is not present in the basic grammar of the world. It comes about only because we have a blurred vision of reality.” In his book, The Order of Time, Rovelli discusses the idea that time itself may simply be a product of entropy—the gradual and irreversible loss of heat and order in the physical universe. No biggie.

Knowing that time itself is not really understood—and that it may not even exist independently of our perception—is kind of spooky. Then again, skeletons are spooky too. Yet you manage to prance around with one of those inside of you. So, I think you can deal with this stuff too.

If there is one conduit to experiencing time more acutely, it is physical sensation. While this is ultimately filtered through your brain—and subject to plenty of variance—sensation is the closest thing that we have to the present moment. Take a second to feel the pressure of where your body meets the ground. The sounds you’re hearing. The feeling of air on your skin. Of all the things you can consider about the present moment, what you are physically experiencing is the least abstract—the most anchored in the physical reality of right now. This is presence.

The opposite of presence lives in the past and/or the future. Comparison. Distraction. Doubt. Being tough on yourself. Unclear priorities. The ghosts of issues past. I’m not saying that there isn’t ever a value to these things. What I am saying is that you can’t ride two temporal horses with one ass. To be present is to bring your complete attention to bear on whatever is happening right now.

I often think back to an interview with a playwright/director, David Mamet. You might know him as the writer of classic lines like coffee is for closers. Mamet took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu in his 50s. When asked about it, he mentioned the name of an MMA champion and said, “I could fight him.” He wasn’t implying that he had a shot. Rather, he believed that he could bring his full attention to bear on the task without any attention squandered about the difficulty of such an uneven matchup. He could be present. He could just take action without being distracted by anything other than the task at hand.


7 presence-based tools for physical resilience

When it comes to building the physical toolkit for presence, there are a few things that we work on teaching everyone we work with. See what’s familiar and ask about the rest because these are tools that you can use—in any moment or position—to fine-tune your experience of exercise into something that better brings you into the moment.

Breathing: Are you able to breathe freely in this position? Is the air and pressure distribution even across your back, sides, and ribs, or does it bias toward one direction?

Lat activation: Can you fire your lats up from your current position?

Abdominal activation and full-body structure: Can you fire up your abs (superficial and deep to match the tension demands of any task—from fully relaxed to everything you’ve got?

Shoulders and hips: Can you create a pull in any direction in order to subtly change the position of the joint? Can you rotate clockwise or counterclockwise?

Feet: Can you bring your weight onto any area of your foot (without losing pressure in the other areas)?

Spine: Can you flex, extend, lean, or rotate into any direction—from any section?

Force production: Can you move explosively in each direction? In a slow and measured way? Can you—above all—move smoothly?

All of these are skills that anyone can develop. They take time—but are well worth investing in. They are rooted in in-the-moment awareness. They are rooted in noticing, which means that they’re rooted in presence.

Bang Personal Training offers some of the best personal training in Toronto – in a format that makes consistency easy. Our expert coaches unite the best features of group and one-on-one training to help you build performance and healthspan