Why Mindfulness Meditation is not always relaxing.


When I tell my clients that mindfulness meditation is not a form of relaxation, I often get a perplexed look, so I thought I’d spend some time to explain myself.   The reason why mindfulness meditation does not always end in relaxation is because the purpose of relaxation is different to the purpose of mindfulness meditation.   The purpose of relaxation is to be free from anxiety and tension.  The purpose of mindfulness meditation on the other hand is to bring non-judgemental awareness to the thoughts, memories, sensations, emotions, and urges we are experiencing in that moment. 

Most of the time, people do experience a sense of relaxation when they spend some time meditating.  This is because when we completely drop our defences and stop "fighting" against the thoughts and feelings that we are having, we can experience relief if we allow the thoughts and feelings to run their course, On the other hand, if we find it hard to drop the struggle, then a sense of relaxation is not experienced following mindfulness meditation.  

Since mindfulness meditation does not always end in relaxation, clients often dislike their first experiences of mindfulness meditation, reporting that, “the meditation did not work”.   When unpacking this, it becomes clear that the expectation during mindfulness meditation was still to experience a sense of relaxation.  Too often we get caught up in a strong desire to get rid of or change the way we feel because we do not like experiencing discomfort.  When we feel emotions (e.g., scared, anxious, nervous, sad, depressed, uncertain, guilty, or angry), we want to make it go away.  We want to feel better.  This is understandable because no one likes to feel pain and discomfort.  However sometimes pain and discomfort is necessary because it means that we are doing something that is important to us.  It means that we are choosing to be strong and face our fears.  Whether it’s facing the thoughts in our mind, or stepping out of our comfort zone to do something challenging, either way, it’s uncomfortable. 

So why meditate?  Meditate, because when you meditate, we are choosing to spend time to be still.  We are choosing to spend time to listen to what our mind is saying.  If we can sit through the initial discomfort of letting our minds run their course by dropping our defences, then we move toward being open and quietening our mind.  Doing this takes practise and is very challenging, but i can be worth it.

Below are some links that you might find helpful to get started with some mindfulness meditation practice, as well as some ideas for relaxation exercises: 

Mindful Breathing 1

The Happiness Trap Resources by Dr Russ Harris

Mindfulness of Thoughts

Mindfulness of Thoughts, Sensations, and Emotions 

Mindful Breathing 2 

Relaxation Strategies

If you’re having trouble with intense difficult emotions and need extra support then give us a call to arrange an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists on (03) 9882-8874

~ Dr Celin Gelgec and the team at Melbourne Wellbeing Group.