The short answer to this question is no, relaxation and meditation are not the same things, but let us delve into this as there are many overlapping qualities and similarities between these practices.
Relaxation is an opportunity to unwind, surrender, and self-soothe, while meditation is about learning the patterns of the mind and how to befriend it. Relaxation is a secondary effect of meditation, but meditative practices go way beyond just relaxing.
Meditation is the practice of training our attention and awareness. It teaches us how to detach from the stories in our heads, to become the observer of the mind, and to focus on present moment awareness. Meditation often involves focusing attention on a single object like the breath, a sound, or an image. It refers to our ability to pay attention to what’s happening at that very moment without casting judgment. For many, meditation is challenging and not relaxing and we don't want people to think they have failed at meditation because it was not relaxing.
Relaxation is any activity that helps you feel calm, reduces stress, anxiety, or feelings of overwhelm. In general, it involves focusing on something that helps you slow down and increase awareness of the physical body. Passive relaxation exercises are performed while sitting or lying quietly and require you to be still and withdraw from the outer world, such as taking a bath, having a massage, guided imagery, hypnosis, or a sound journey. There are also movement-based relaxation exercises like walking, Qigong, and Tai Chi.
Both meditation and relaxation practices can be soothing to the parasympathetic nervous system. Studies suggest that both practices can aid in reducing stress, anxiety, pain, and depression. Many practices involve elements of both meditation and relaxation. Yoga classes include guided meditations, breath awareness, and the relaxing component of Savasana. Some forms of relaxation techniques may become meditative, such as body scanning or Yoga Nidra. These techniques may also help you go deeper into meditation.
Both meditation and relaxation practices may have the following benefits on the body and the mind:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving digestion and sleep
- Calming the nervous system
- Reducing stress, anxiety, and tension
- Increasing blood circulation and calmness
- Improving mood
In conclusion, differentiating between meditation and relaxation comes down to the intention of the practice. Relaxation practices can offer us an opportunity to soothe the physical body with slow breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and body scanning. Meditation, however, is much more than relaxing; it’s an exploration of the mind and an invitation to build a deeper understanding of the self. Apart from the many science-backed benefits, meditation has remarkable transformative qualities. It helps us to see things as they are and free ourselves from mental conditioning.
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