how is meditation different from relaxation and sleep

Today, Janine, one of our newsletter followers, wrote in to ask “How is meditation different from relaxing or sleeping?”

Thanks for your question, Janine.

When we look at meditation VS sleep and relaxation, there definitely are some similarities. For starters, like sleep and relaxation, meditation helps you to calm down and quietens the mind. It’s also something you can do when you’re tired (although it is better to meditate when you have energy, otherwise you might doze off). And like sleep and relaxation, meditation helps with things like stress and anxiety. But there are also important differences.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways how meditation is different from relaxing and sleep.

How Is Meditation Different From Relaxing

Relaxing means different things to different people. However, generally, when we say we are relaxing we mean we are chilling out doing nothing important, and that we are not working, doing the house chores or anything like that.

Ironically, what we call relaxing often isn’t relaxing at all. Take watching the TV, for instance. Most people think that watching TV is relaxing. However, studies show that some types of TV shows (especially the news) can actually make us feel more stressed and anxious. Same with scrolling through social media. Most people think that’s relaxing too. But when you’re on social media there is a huge amount of information flowing through your mind, and your mind is not getting rest.

When we are relaxing, we are also kinda just killing time. Idling on the internet, watching TV… we’re not really trying to accomplish anything, it’s just a time killer.

So how is meditation different from relaxing?

For starters, meditation is actually relaxing for the mind.

When you meditate you let your mind focus on the present moment, and you let go of thoughts. You also stop the constant flow of information that you’re usually subjected to. You’re not on your phone or TV or computer; you’re deliberately limiting the amount of information your mind is subjected to. This is much healthier for the mind. It actually gives the mind an opportunity to rest and reset.

Meditation is also purposeful. When we meditate, there is clear intent. We are meditating to make our minds healthier and to let go of stress and anxiety, and some people meditate to become enlightened too. So unlike when we are relaxing, when we are meditating we have a clear goal in mind: to make ourselves healthier.

Unlike relaxing, meditation takes effort.

Some meditation techniques are actually quite advanced and require high levels of concentration. That’s not the case when you’re just relaxing. Meditation is an exercise for the mind. It is an action that we put effort into, which is different from when we are just relaxing.

How Is Meditation Different From Sleeping?

Although it might seem as though there are a lot of similarities between meditation and sleeping, they are in many ways opposite.

Just like when we sleep, when we meditate we have our eyes closed (usually) and we may even be lying down. Plus, we are quieting the mind and stopping the flow of information. Meditation and sleep even have a similar effect on the brain. Meditation produces alpha brain waves, which are the same brain waves used in early-stage sleep. This is why meditation helps you get to sleep.

So definitely there are similarities when we look at meditation VS sleep.

However, there are lot of differences between meditation and sleep too.

The most obvious difference is that when we sleep, we are unconscious, whereas when we meditate, we actually increase consciousness. Meditating involves focusing the mind on the present moment much more than we do in our typical day to day life. So it raises consciousness.

When we are asleep we have zero control of the mind. We are subject to our dreams, which we can’t control (unless it’s a lucid dream). When we meditate, however, we increase our control of our minds. We become more in control of thoughts and feelings. So in this way meditation and sleep are the opposite.

There are some similarities in the benefits of meditation and sleep. A good night’s sleep will refresh the mind and can help reduce anxiety, stress, and other problems. But with meditation, we also gain awareness. We learn about the mind when we meditate, and that insight can have long-lasting benefits that sleep simply doesn’t offer.

As you can see, there are big differences between meditation, sleep and relaxation.

Meditation is, in fact, a unique exercise. There really aren’t many other techniques like it. So if you’re wondering whether you can replace meditation with sleep or relaxation, you probably shouldn’t. Relaxing and sleeping won’t give you the same benefits that meditation does.

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About Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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