Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Relaxation Response

Most people have heard of the Fight of Flight response, that body reaction we have in stressful times.  Most people know that our modern lives trigger it over and over again, every day, and that it aggravates many of the most medicated and deadly health problems we face today.

Relatively few people know that there is a symmetry in our physical and mental beings that counter-acts this response.  It's possible to "turn off" the fight or flight response, to induce a state which can repair the potential damage, and can even make you less likely to be harmed by stress in the future.

There is a state of mind and body in which blood chemistry changes, metabolic rate decreases, and in fact, every "bad" thing that comes from fight or flight is countered.  The really good news is that it is very, very easy to create and maintain this state.  It's probably the most beneficial thing you can do for your health, right now, with no special equipment and with very little skill.

It also feels good!

  • Find a quiet place.  Turn your cell phone OFF.
  • Sit with your hands in your lap and bring your attention to your breath and body.
  • As you breathe in say "in."
  • As you breathe out repeat a phrase to yourself in your head, something positive.
    • It can be one word, an inspiring phrase, a line from a song you like.  It doesn't matter.
  • When thoughts intrude, notice them and return to your phrase.
  • Keep going for ten minutes.
It's so simple you will think you're not doing it, and that it can't be working.  But it does.  This state has been massively studied in the last thirty years.

  • Sleep improves.
  • People who drink or use drugs use less.
  • Anxiety is reduced.
  • Blood pressure goes down (all the time, not just when you're doing it).
  • People report "feeling better" emotionally and physically.
For many, sitting quietly and repeating the phrase for ten or twenty mintues a day becomes a positive addiction.  Everything seems better when you do it, and the state itself is pleasurable.  In a way it's no surprise that nature would design an equal and opposite reaction to the fight or flight response.  But it is a delightful discovery.  So easy, and fun to do.

Dr. Benson's book has been through many printings, and it's still available.
"The Relaxation Response."

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