Nowadays most people who come in to see my for private therapy come to see me because of my background with mindfulness and psychotherapy. Whether the issue has to do with stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, or addiction, there is a sense of wanting to come home, to come back into their life, to gain emotional intelligence, to get back in touch with what really matters.
However, there is also a hidden or not-so-hidden agenda that mindfulness will be used as a relaxation exercise of some kind. While this may be a nice side effect of mindfulness practice, mindfulness is not relaxation.
It’s legitimate to ask, what is the difference between mindfulness and relaxation? After all, the most mainstreamed and popular program out there is called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Right in the title is the implication that we’re using this for stress reduction. However, it’s just a clever title to get people in the door; the program is so much more than that.
In A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook we answer this question:
How is meditation different from relaxation?
“While meditation can certainly bring on feelings of relaxation, it also may not. Your intention is what makes the difference. When you want to relax, you can engage in a wide variety of activities, from watching TV, reading a book, lying in a hammock, soaking in a bubble bath, doing breathing exercises…the list goes on and on. In mindfulness meditation, the intention is simply to place nonjudgmental attention on whatever object of awareness you’ve chosen.
So if you’re practicing mindfulness with eating a raisin, you’re tuning in to all of your senses, not for the purpose of relaxation, but for the purpose of truly and deeply experiencing the present moment. Practicing meditation for the purpose of relaxation can actually be a trap; if you meditate and don’t feel relaxed, your mind might start racing with thoughts about how it isn’t working. This could lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment, which may send you on a downward spiral toward becoming anxious or depressed.”
So mindfulness isn’t about just relaxing, it’s as Derek Walcott says, “Introducing the stranger who was yourself.”
It’s learning how to be present for your life so we don’t get so swept up in the tides of conditioned reactions that don’t serve us. It’s come back in touch with ability to choose new responses, open up the lens of life and see so much more than the same movie we’ve been seeing before.
While many programs suggest taking out large chunks of times to practice meditation, you are welcome to start just with 1 minute or 30 seconds right now.
Close your eyes and open up to what’s here physically and emotionally. Pause just to check in and allow whatever is here to be as it is. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “This is it!”
For this moment, feast on your life.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.