To some, “relaxation response” means flopping in front of the TV and putting the brain on passive mode.
That can work. But true relaxation response, according to researchers over at MGH, is “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension).”
The Harvard Health Blog offers some helpful advice on using the sometimes insanely simple relaxation response techniques. The post also doubles as a pitch for a new book by Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The relaxation response may help people to counteract the toxic effects of chronic stress by slowing breathing rate, relaxing muscles, and reducing blood pressure.
So how exactly do you elicit the relaxation response? There is no single method that works for everyone, and it may take some practice before you find the method that is right for you.
During the lecture I attended, Dr. Benson lead us through a series of steps designed to slowly relax our bodies and minds. First we sat in a comfortable position. Then we focused on a single word or phrase of our choosing (such as “one” or “peace” or “shalom”). We did this for 10 minutes. We practiced deep abdominal breathing while silently repeating a focus word.
Did it work? Results varied. I found it hard to settle down, although my breathing did slow a bit. But the physician sitting next to me said he felt his breathing slow considerably. And the woman on the other side of him actually fell asleep.
Here is a link to some podcasts from Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA that offer guidance on how to get going. Try the three-minute body and sound mediation on the T to the sounds of the tracks. (It helps if you have a seat next to someone who doesn’t look too creepy.)