Are relaxation techniques and mindfulness the same?

At present, mindfulness has gained a lot of fame, with courses and workshops being taught to a wide range of people in very different fields, such as work, school, hospital, and not only for patients with various pathologies, but also for healthcare staff.

This great notoriety has allowed these techniques to become popular, but some confusion has also been generated, since sometimes relaxation and mindfulness techniques are equated or it is believed to be a subtype of these, when the reality is that they are opposite.

Relaxation techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, Jacobson’s muscle relaxation, Schultz autogenous training or visualization strategies, what they are looking for is to decrease, or even eliminate, both physical and mental anxiety symptoms, such as sweating, tremor, tachycardia, or negative thoughts. However, mindfulness or mindfulness is directed to the fact that, although these symptoms could be annoying, we must be in the present and not focus our efforts on trying to modify them.

Mindfulness has its origins in Zen Buddhist meditation and it is Jon Kabat-Zin who promotes his interest in the West. It is understood as a non-evaluative process, of focusing attention on the present moment, and understands that a certain degree of discomfort and suffering is in the human condition, so that we must accept what happens and direct our efforts towards the achievement of our goals and not to change what we think or feel.

The main components of mindfulness include:

  • Intentionally focusing on the present moment, developing sustained attention, rather than dispersed and fragmented.
  • Show openness to experience, participating in thoughts, bodily sensations, external stimuli… with full self-awareness
  • Radical acceptance of what happens, instead of aversion to unpleasant experiences or attachment to pleasurable
  • Give up control, so we let events happen instead of provoking them
  • Live this mindfulness without judging, or judging yourself by the different thoughts, emotions or sensations that occur.

There are different procedures for the training of mindfulness, which may even be similar to those of relaxation techniques, such as breathing, although the objective instead of reducing the hyperactivation of the body and re-educate the way of breathing to make it Diaphragmatic instead of superficial, it is aimed at observing the breath that each one presents individually, without modifying anything, only with full attention to how the air enters and leaves the body and the different movements that accompany it.

Other strategies include attention to sounds, the exercise of eating a raisin, meditation on thoughts, being the body scan one of the most practiced, this technique is aimed at focusing attention on sensations while doing a mental tour All over the body.

Mindfulness uses the body to be connected to the present, since the mind can go to the past, which is related to symptoms of depression and the future, which would involve symptoms of anxiety, but the body is always in the present, and Thanks to that we can connect with the here and now when we need it, practicing mindfulness in our bodily sensations.

So, despite the fact that relaxation and mindfulness techniques may sometimes seem similar, even though as a consequence of the realization of mindfulness we can relax, the truth is that the objective of each strategy is completely different.

Psychology Service

California University Hospital

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