What is the Relaxation Response?
The counterpart to the fight-or-flight response, the relaxation response, occurs when the body is no longer in perceived danger, and the autonomic nervous system functioning returns to normal. As a form of meditation, the relaxation response tends to be well received by those with busy minds.
Physician Herbert Benson was a pioneer in studying the physiological changes that occurred during meditation techniques. Benson can be largely credited for demystifying meditation and helping to bring it into the mainstream, by renaming meditation the “Relaxation Response.”
Since 1968, Benson published over 55 articles on how the relaxation response has positive impacts on health. His studies in the 1960s and 1970s were able to show that meditation promotes better health, especially in individuals with hypertension. People who meditate regularly enjoy lower stress levels, increased wellbeing, and even were able to reduce their blood pressure levels and resting heart rate.
Benefits of the Relaxation Response
- reducing blood pressure
- stress management in the workplace
- promoting well-being
- reducing PMS symptoms
- reducing headaches and migraines
- changes in body temperature
- resolving insomnia
- reduce anxiety prior to surgery
There are many methods to elicit the Relaxation Response including visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, energy healing, acupuncture, massage, breathing techniques, prayer, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga.
True relaxation can also be achieved by removing yourself from everyday thought and by choosing a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or by focusing on your breathing. The relaxation response uses a mental cue such as the word om or really any soothing word or sound that has no meaning or association in order to keep the individual focused. The goal is to avoid the stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.
How to Elicit the Relaxation Response
Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes.
Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face.
Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say your chosen word silently to yourself. For example, breathe in, and then out, and say “om”, in and out, and repeat “om.” Breathe easily and naturally.
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 opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of 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 return to repeating “om.”
Learning the Relaxation Response is a great skill that can help us to be better equipped to deal with life’s unexpected stressors, heal ourselves, and achieve better health.
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