I’ve noticed that there is often a lot of confusion when it comes to the concepts of meditation, mindfulness and relaxation.
Often, they are being used interchangeably, whereas, in my eyes, there is clear difference.
Let me start with mindfulness.
What is it? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the one who developed the 8-week program, defined it as:
“Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmental”
When you do the 8-week training, it is basically split in two:
During the first part (=week 1-4) you learn how to focus. Since our mind is always jumping from one place to the other (the monkey mind), it’s good to learn how to focus. How do you practice that? Through the ‘body scan’ and ‘focus on the breathing’.
When you do a body scan, you ‘scan’ your whole body, by focusing on different parts of it, each time paying very close attention to whatever may be ‘noticeable’ there. Maybe there is some itching, or it feels warm, or … you don’t notice anything. Whenever you are distracted, you bring your attention back to whichever part of the body you were examining at that moment.
The second technique is focus on the breathing: where do you notice it, is it shallow or deep, is it quick or slow, are you breathing in or out…You focus on the breathing. Nothing more, nothing less. And whenever you are distracted, you bring your attention back… to your breathing.
To me this is not ‘true’ or ‘complete’ mindfulness yet. It is the preparation to the ‘real deal’.
In the second part of the training (week 5-8), you learn to observe (from that point of focus, that you’ve practiced during the first part), whatever presents itself, as long as it presents itself.
Basically, you learn to observe what’s going on within yourself (what are you thinking, what am I feeling, where in my body are you feeling something) and what’s going on around you.
You are practicing awareness.
And that is where the real gold is.
You notice things, without being carried away by them.
You notice, for instance, anger, instead of already being angry, or regretting what you said.
You might even notice that something/somebody triggered you and that you are about to get angry… And this gives you a choice… you can choose how you are going to express that anger…
You notice stress signals, when they are still in their early stage. And you can do something about your stress, before it gets worse…
So far mindfulness.
Let’s now move to meditation.
In the Cambridge dictionary you will find the following definition:
“The act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.”
There are many types of meditation.
- Formal and informal meditation. Both the body scan and the focus on the breathing are formal meditations. An example of an ‘informal’ meditation could be that you drink a cup of tea mindfully: you drink it slowly, noticing the warm mug in your hands, smelling the tea, tasting it in your mouth, etc… You can take a shower, mindfully. You focus on that specific activity.
- Guided meditations…
- Mantra meditations…
- Transcendental meditations…
Is one better than the other? Not really. It depends a bit on what you are looking for. And it’s also about personal preferences. For me they are mostly about the ‘focus’ part.
And let’s finally talk about relaxation. Or, again according to the Cambridge dictionary:
“a pleasant activity that makes you become calm and less worried”
Some activities are going to be relaxing to the mind, others are relaxing to the body, some can be a combination.
You can find reading a book relaxing, or spending time with friends.
Going for a run can relax your mind but… not necessarily your body…
Again, is one better than the other? Not really. It depends a bit on what you are looking for. And it’s also about personal preferences.
Then why did I recommend start practicing the body scan and the focus on the breathing in my course ‘Boost your resilience!’?
I want people to try it out, because it could potentially be 1 solution to different problems.
- It can be used as relaxation: when you feel stressed, overwhelmed … focus is the answer. Can’t the other types of meditation not do that too? Absolutely. See below.
- Both the body scan and the focus on the breath will (eventually) relax both the mind and the body. Even though at first you can feel very restless. It’s a bit strange but at the same time, very normal. You first have to ‘stop’ to finally feel all the stress that has been built up in the body. Because of the adrenaline, you were not aware… At first you might feel more stress. But it will get better and easier.
- The two meditations I give are a first step into the direction of ‘awareness’. And it’s exactly that ‘awareness’ that I believe to be crucial in stress management. To be aware of your thoughts and beliefs. To be able to notice certain patterns that you have. To notice emotions and bodily sensations… And for me that ‘awareness’ has come through my mindfulness practice. And that is priceless.
“OK, I get it”, I hear you say. “So I can also do other types of meditation to relax?”.
Yes! If you want to try meditation only for relaxation purposes, check out the app ‘Insight Timer’. You will find thousands of meditations in different languages, organized by duration and type.
“Do I need to meditate to relax my body?” No…
A massage can do that for you. Or a hot bath.
There are also lots of breathing techniques.
4-4-4-4, for instance… or cardiac coherence, …
You will find more information in a video I created before. You can find it on Facebook or on Youtube.
I hope that I’ve been able to clarify the different concepts.
Think about what you want to achieve, choose the strategy (whether it’s meditation or not) and … start practicing. Because… you’ll need to practice in order to have ‘access to it’ whenever you need it.