The Relaxation Response
Herbert Benson is a world-renowned medical doctor associated with Harvard University and Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. In his book, The Relaxation Response, he presents well-documented evidence of the body-mind connection in controlling and preventing high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The following is a brief synopsis of his findings and instructions for learning the relaxation response.
Stress is a word that we are all too familiar with in todays fast past world. Studies have shown that life-changing events can be statistically calculated as to their impact on our stress levels. Death of a spouse, divorce, injury and even marriage are listed in the top seven. What has also been shown is that it is how people deal with stress that can determine its impact on their general health and well being.
The “fight or flight” response describes an adaptive physiological reaction to stress. It is the body’s way of reacting to a perceived threat. Part of this response includes the secretion of hormones that increase the blood pressure, heart rate and body metabolism. It is very useful in certain circumstances- such as running from a burning house. When this response is overused or becomes a chronic reaction, it can be very detrimental to one’s health.
The relaxation response can lead to a quieting of the same nervous system that produces the fight or flight response. There is conclusive evidence that hypertensive subjects can lower their B/P by regularly eliciting this response. It is based upon techniques that have existed in the context of religious teachings such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and others, for many centuries. Its application can be widespread and therefore incorporated into both a secular and religious practice. There are four basic components necessary to bring forth the response:
4) Breathe through your nose. As you breathe, say the word “one”, or your own sound, word or phrase, silently to yourself. Breathe easily and naturally.
5) Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Do not stand for a few minutes.
6) Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and returning to repeating “one” or your sound, word or phrase. With practice, the response should come with little or no effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after a meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the relaxation response.
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