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The Relaxation Response

woman meditating on desk

I love the month of January because we can look ahead at 12 months of exploring new things! One of which is a technique I teach my clients to decrease stress levels called “The Relaxation Response”.

Although meditation has been around for thousands of years, the Relaxation Response, which is a form of meditation was started in the United States in the 1970’s by Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. This technique is accepted by physicians and therapists worldwide as a way of relieving symptoms of conditions ranging from cancer to aids.

AND I LOVE IT!

According to Dr. Benson, “The relaxation response 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)”.  He adds that, “Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body—it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind”. Mr. Benson is the founder of the Mind Body Medicine Institute.

HOW TO DO THE RELAXATION RESPONSE

For 20 minutes, sit down in a quiet room and begin breathing slowly by inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Dr. Benson recommends on the exhale to repeat a phrase such as a word, prayer, or phrase: i.e. calm, peace, gentle, or even just the word “one”. If thoughts come up don’t worry just say, “Oh well” and go back to breathing and repeating the word, prayer or phrase.

As you breathe slowly and repeat the word/prayer/phrase, start to focus on relaxing a different part of the body with each breath:

  • Feet
  • Ankles
  • Calves
  • Knees
  • Thighs
  • Hips (I add pelvic floor and buttocks)
  • Belly
  • Back
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Arms & Hands
  • Throat & Neck
  • Face & Head

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Dawson Church mentions Dr. Benson in his book, The Genie in your Genes. “Studies showed that the Relaxation Response was able to help with many different ailments, from high blood pressure to infertility to rheumatoid arthritis to pain. “How could a single, simple, stress reduction technique affect so many different conditions? Researchers wondered. The answer had to wait until the invention of DNA microarrays at the end of the 20th century, which made possible the study of the Relaxation Response as an epigenetic intervention”   

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So now you know a little secret to healing yourself!

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Enjoy this wonderous New Year with your Relaxation Response!

With love and health,

Jackie

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Jackie Castro-Cooper, MPT

I hold a Masters in Physical Therapy and specialize in John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release. My passion is helping patients discover their own path to healing through integrative and holistic therapies.