Relaxation and meditation may feel similar sometimes yet a line can be drawn between the two.
Let me share an experience. I decide it's time to have a meditation practice – for whatever reason or for no reason at all except it's time to sit. After 1 minute of sitting in an upright posture my mind is drawn to my tight shoulders. The muscles are screaming – "Please release me. I've been trying to get your attention for a long time."
Relaxation supports a meditation practice. We need silent muscles.
Meditation is a practice that ultimately helps us get a handle on the mind. A mindfulness meditation practice makes us aware of the mind. We may realize it is busy or heavy; scattered or focused. Or it could be dull or alert. The key is awareness; being aware of the quality of the mind without judging.
Relaxation as a practice is usually done lying at the end of a yoga class. The pose is called Shavasana – the corpse pose. The intention is to release tension in the muscular and the psycho-physiological system. The pose develops awareness of the body.
Practice of both relaxation and meditation can be formal or informal. With a formal practice there will be a time period. We might practice every morning before the regular activities. Or at night before going to sleep to help us unwind.
An informal practice occurs as we go about our day. We notice our shoulders creeping up to our ears and move them down. Or feel our hands in fists and soften them. It's an awareness of the body that grows out of the formal practice.
The same is true for the mind. We notice thoughts like a pattern of being critical, or the beginning of anxiety. We accept what is and have a choice to create a new thought or simply witness feelings and thoughts.
Mind versus Body
Life happens and sometimes the body may be forced to be inactive because of an injury. The mind however remains as active and engaged as before and now we notice. In this situation, if the formal practice of meditation is new, being inactive and having a scattered mind might be disconcerting.
Relaxation and meditation practices both help us befriend the body and mind. Our awareness and appreciation for these parts of ourselves deepen and we experience more of our inner world.