Number One – Relaxation
Mindfulness is not a Relaxation Exercise
As a mindfulness teacher, one of the first things I stress to potential clients and reiterate when we begin the course is that mindfulness is NOT a relaxation or breathing exercise.
The reason for this is that sometimes we may not find a meditation relaxing at all. Our minds may be particularly scattered and busy. We may have to work very hard to bring our attention back to the present moment. Sometimes it can feel like we are running a marathon in our heads.
You don’t have to like it
There are times when we don’t want to meditate, and we may not enjoy it when we do, but some of our best work is done when our minds are very busy. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said in Full Catastrophe Living – “You don’t have to enjoy mindfulness, you just have to do it.”.
Then there are times when our practice is peaceful and calm and we feel blissful afterwards. But we never know how it is going to be because each time is different. When we are feeling very stressed we can easily find ourselves wanting to practice in order to relax but this can backfire! The more we strive for something then the further away from our grasp it seems to be.
So, can we let our intention in practice be to allow whatever happens to happen? We may relax and we may not.
What’s the Side Effect then?
So how is relaxation a side effect? Well, the reason we get better at relaxing is because we get better at noticing. The more we develop our awareness, through practicing bringing our minds back over and over in meditation, the more likely we are to be aware of our behaviours day to day.
Through awareness I am able notice that my jaw is clenched or that my shoulders are up around my ears, and by noticing I then have a choice of what to do next. I can soften, let go of any bracing and stop holding on. Our minds and bodies are connected – we often lose sight of this – and so choosing to un-tense our bodies when we notice they are rigid, has a truly beneficial effect on our mental well being too. Physically relaxing your body interrupts the stress response and stops the feedback to your mind that you are stressed.
So next time you are feeling really stressed out, bring awareness to what’s happening in your body – and breathe.