THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RELAXATION AND MEDITATION
Today, most people who come to my office are attracted by my experience in mindfulness and psychotherapy. Whether they come to me for problems of stress, anxiety, depression, trauma or addiction, I see in them the desire to meet again, to return to their lives, to develop their emotional intelligence and to resume contact with what really matters.
But, unconsciously (or maybe not so much) they also consider mindfulness as a kind of relaxation exercise. While this may be one of its pleasant side effects, mindfulness is not relaxation. It is therefore legitimate to ask what distinguishes these two practices? After all, the best-known mindfulness program is called mindfulness-based stress reduction. The very title implies that we use mindfulness to reduce stress. Yet this is just a smart title to attract people: the MBSR program is much more than that.
In Learning to Meditate , we answer this question: How does meditation differ from relaxation?
“Of course, meditation can cause feelings of relaxation but it is not always the case. It is your intention that makes the difference. When you want to relax, you can do all kinds of activities: watch TV, read a book, lie in a hammock, laze in a bubble bath, do breathing exercises … When you practice mindfulness meditation , the intention is simply to pay attention without judgment to any object of your choice. Thus, if you practice mindfulness by eating a raisin, you listen to all your senses, not for the purpose of relaxing, but to truly and deeply live the present moment. In reality, trying to relax by meditation can be a trap because if you do not succeed, your mind may begin to brood over this failure. You may experience frustration, anxiety and disappointment and find yourself propelled into the negative spiral of anxiety and depression. ”
Mindfulness is not simply an exercise in relaxation. As Derek Walcott said, it’s “loving the stranger again that you were for yourself”. It consists in learning to be more present in our lives to be less carried away by the waves of conditioned reactions that serve us – to reconnect with our ability to choose creative responses, to open our field of vision to see much more than the film that we have been going back and forth forever. Although many programs invite you to practice long meditation sessions, you can start with a minute or thirty seconds at this very moment.
Close your eyes and open to your physical and emotional sensations. Stop for the simple purpose of becoming aware of your experience and allowing everything that is here to be as it is. As Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it so well: “Everything is here! ”
Enjoy this moment to revel in your life. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts, anecdotes and questions below. Your interactions create living wisdom from which we can all benefit.