The Relaxation Response

Ten Minutes a Day to Reduced Stress and Better Health

If you have ten free minutes a day, you can reduce stress, improve insomnia, lessen anxiety and depression, and decrease your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Sound too good to be true? In fact, the meditative technique known as the "relaxation response" was described a quarter century ago by Harvard physician Herbert Benson, M.D. and has been scientifically proven not only to reduce stress and anxiety but also to improve symptoms of cancer, AIDS, and other conditions.

Dr. Benson's 1975 book The Relaxation Response, has become the definitive work on the mind/body connection and the effects of stress on our physical well-being. Since its description, the relaxation response has been accepted as a valuable tool by physicians and therapists worldwide.  Relaxation response techniques are taught in medical schools and are an accepted part of therapy for many medical conditions.

Just what is the relaxation response? Simply put, it is the opposite of the "adrenaline rush" we associate with stress and anxiety. Physiologically, our bodies respond to perceived threatening situations with an increased release of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, leading to increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, accelerated breathing rate and increased blood flow to the muscles. Because these reactions prepare our bodies to flee the situation or to fight, this reaction has been termed the "fight-or-flight" response. The relaxation response is a state in which our bodies undergo an opposite reaction - leading to decreased breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism.

Almost anyone can learn to elicit the relaxation response, and no special equipment is necessary. The relaxation response technique consists of the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, etc. while sitting quietly with eyes closed. Intruding thoughts are dismissed by passively returning to the repetition. This should be practiced for 10-20 minutes a day in a quiet environment free of distractions. A seated position is recommended to avoid falling asleep, and you may open your eyes to check the time but do not set an alarm. Don't feel discouraged in the beginning if it is difficult to banish intruding thoughts or worries; this technique requires practice. With consistency and time the relaxation response will occur effortlessly and smoothly.

For maximum benefits you should schedule time to practice the relaxation response into your daily routine. Many people find it helpful to practice this technique at approximately the same time each day; for example, upon returning home after a busy work day it may ease your transition to a relaxed and enjoyable evening.

For more information about Dr. Benson's work on the mind/body connection, read his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations regarding "Healing and the Mind." He is also author of several books, including his most recent works, The Wellness Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Maintaining Health and Treating Stress-Related Illness and Timeless Healing.