Having practiced a number of relaxation techniques such as Autogenic, Muscular, Differential, Yoga Nidra, etc. for a number of years as well as mindfulness meditation, there are key differences between these two broad kinds of practices. Both of them can be very helpful to us and can go a long way in promoting health and well-being. However, it helps to understand the dynamics and differences between the two as listed below:
i) A state of relaxation is for the most part a pleasant experience. However, mindfulness meditation may not be a pleasant experience. If we are being mindful of one or more negative emotions arising within ourselves, we are aware of them and are not trying to cover them up with anything pleasant. The intent of mindfulness meditation is to be one with the unpleasant experience and get to know it as much as we can.
ii) During a period of relaxation, our attention is quite diffused. It may drift from wakefulness to sleepiness. However, in mindfulness meditation, we are making a gentle effort to be attentive and wakeful to whatever is arising within ourselves. The more wakeful, attentive and present we are – the better our mindfulness meditation may become.
iii) Relaxation may not lead to a ‘mindfulness’ experience. However, mindfulness meditation may lead to relaxation, especially in moments when physical or mental distractions do not arise within us. This relaxation will differ from our common experience of relaxation due to the alert, attentive nature of the mind that mindfulness meditation produces.
iv) There is no generation of insight in the state of relaxation, as much as it can be helpful to us. Mindfulness, however, leads to insights into the habit patterns and conditioning of our mind. It can be a very active process.
v) Finally, mindfulness meditation leads to the development of our attention and concentration. Every time we realize that our mind has drifted away from our chosen object of meditation, we bring it back. By doing so, we are strengthening our power of attention and concentration. Relaxation, on the other hand, does not result in the development of our attention and concentration.
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