Mindfulness is an underrated tool when it comes to relaxation techniques. Mindfulness practices can make your mind more calm and more resilient against stress. This often pairs well with relaxation, which has the primary goal of calming your mind and body and lowering stress.
When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, the goal for most of us is simple:
We want to calm down, relax, and be at peace.
Unfortunately, mindfulness isn’t always relaxing. (And the point of mindfulness is to build awareness, not to create feelings of relaxation).
However, there are a number of relaxation techniques based in mindfulness.
Let’s talk about why mindfulness and relaxation are both important, how they’re different, and why each deserves a place in your life.
7 Relaxation techniques based on mindfulness
There’s a good amount of crossover between mindfulness and relaxation.
Some relaxing activities are more “mindful” than others.
For example, watching Netflix and walking in the woods are both relaxing. But they may not have the same potential as mindfulness-centered relaxation techniques.
Here are a few activities that promote both relaxation and mindfulness:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Tai chi or qi gong
- Spending time in nature
- Using guided imagery and visualizations
- Taking a warm bath
Mindfulness vs relaxation
Mindfulness and relaxation aren’t the same. While mindfulness and relaxation can both improve your state of calm and reduce stress, mindfulness is not simply another form of relaxation.
The main difference between mindfulness and relaxation is that mindfulness is not intended to be relaxing, especially when it comes to meditation. In fact, meditation often feels like the opposite of relaxing (and it should).
Mindfulness is a tool to help you live in the present, and mindfulness practices can make your mind more calm and more resilient against stress.
Relaxation, on the other hand, has the primary goal of calming your mind and body and lowering stress.
Relaxation is about letting your mind unwind, while mindfulness is about training your mind.
While there are activities that combine both mindfulness and relaxation, and can further both goals at the same time, sometimes it’s just better to focus on one or the other.
Mindfulness can be uncomfortable
As you’re incorporating mindfulness into your relaxation techniques, remember that mindfulness is different than pure relaxation. Some mindfulness techniques can be uncomfortable.
Mindfulness means identifying and tackling the challenges of our inner world. Just like therapy, which can lead to improvements in mental health over time but includes stagnation as well as breakthroughs, the mindfulness journey can be a roller coaster.
And that makes sense: it’s an introspective and methodical process of learning more about how our bodies and minds can best exist peacefully in the present moment. And that takes time.
The expectation that mindfulness will result in the same quick high as a relaxing vacation is what causes people to quickly drop their practices at the first sign that they’re not “working.”
That’s not to say that all mindfulness activities feel challenging.
Breathing exercises can help relieve tension in the present moment. Sipping tea and taking quiet time to yourself early in the morning while you think about your day is a “pleasant” sort of mindfulness.
But at the end of the day, to make real progress, mindfulness requires us to analyze the sources of our discontent and apply tools to improve them. And that’s uncomfortable.
Meditation vs relaxation
Meditation is probably the mindfulness activity that’s most difficult to turn into a source of relaxation.
The main difference between meditation and relaxation is that meditation is a practice focused on bringing us back to the present moment, while relaxation is focused on achieving a pleasant state of calm.
With meditation, the goal is nonjudgmental observation, whereas with relaxation, feelings of calm and pleasure are “better” than other feelings.
In addition, relaxation can be done passively (for example, laying in a hammock) whereas meditation is an active practice that might involve focusing on your breath, concentrating on a mantra or simply observing thoughts nonjudgmentally as they come up.
While relaxation may be beneficial for stress relief, meditation has been shown to have additional benefits, such as improving attention, focus, and mood.
This isn’t to say that meditation can’t have relaxing moments. In the course of meditation sessions, it’s possible to reach a state of calm and relaxation and even euphoria.
However, these feelings aren’t the goal of meditation, and are meant to be observed nonjudgmentally, just as difficult feelings are.
When should I just “relax” vs practicing mindfulness?
Pure relaxation has an important place in our lives.
In the context of mindfulness and meditation, it’s easy to get burnt out or to feel like each moment of our day should be used to move towards a more peaceful and calmer life.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up for living in the past or the future. (And it’s even easy to be hard on ourselves for being hard on ourselves!)
Relaxation and taking time off is an especially good idea when we start to notice these signs of burnout and overthinking.
When that happens, it’s time to find activities we enjoy and just decompress, while removing all pressure to use our time mindfully.
Bringing mindful relaxation techniques into your daily life
Practicing mindfulness without the expectation that it’ll be relaxing is important.
The expectation that mindfulness should be relaxing is often what causes beginners to lose motivation in their practice.
However, there are mindful activities that also double as relaxation techniques, from deep breathing exercises to yoga to walks in nature.
The more your body can spend in a zone of relaxation, the more equipped you’ll be to handle everyday challenges with a mindful outlook.
Pay attention to how your mind and body feel, and create time for relaxation on your mindfulness journey.
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Hi there—my name is Ryan. My mindfulness practice kicked off in 2016 after I joined a ten-day silent retreat. I started Mindfulness Box because thinking about what makes humans happy, calm, and peaceful is endlessly fascinating to me.