How to Elicit the Relaxation Response

At ITK we understand the profound importance of caring for the whole child in body, mind, heart and spirit. When we see others in the health care profession who strive to attain the same goal we love to give their work a shout out and share some of the great insights they have to offer!

Herbert Benson, MD, has been a pioneer in Mind Body Medicine. Throughout his 40+-year career, Dr. Benson has worked to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern medical practices. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Benson continues to lead the field with research into the efficacy of Mind Body Medicine to counteract the harmful effects of stress.

In his bestselling book Relaxation Revolution Dr. Herbert Benson shows that by calming the mind, one can calm the body and alleviate stress, pain, and illness. Recent landmark research from the genome project has proven Benson's theory: using the mind to quiet the body not only eases stress, it actually alters the activity of thousands of genes, promoting wellness. Science now proves that relaxation not only changes how a patient feels physically and emotionally but, it also has the power to transform genes, molecules, cells, and other physiological functions to relieve a variety of conditions from high blood pressure to chronic joint pain. The relaxation response can simply be thought of as “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress”... It is the opposite of the fight or flight response.

 So how do you enter this state of relaxation, and trigger your body’s natural stress defense? Dr. Benson details a simple step-by-step technique that anyone can use.

1.   Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

2.  Close your eyes.

3. Deeply relax all your muscles, 
beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. 
Keep them relaxed.

4.  Breathe through your nose. 
Become aware of your breathing. Focus on a word, phrase, short prayer, or only your breathing. If you choose for example the word “one”
As you breathe out, say the word, "one", 
silently to yourself. For example, 
breathe in ... out, "one",- in .. out, "one", etc. 
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 opened. 
Do not stand up for a few minutes.

6.  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 "one."

With practice, the response should come with little effort. 
Practice the technique once or twice daily, 
but not within two hours after any meal, 
since the digestive processes seem to interfere with
the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.

The relaxation response can help people to counteract the toxic effects of chronic stress by slowing breathing rate, relaxing muscles, and reducing blood pressure. Through eliciting the relaxation response, in combination with standard medical treatment, you may also find that you can reduce your medication dosage or have less invasive surgical procedures. This ideally is a daily practice you can use to keep you feeling great all year long. Happy relaxing from all of us at ITK!