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Relaxation Response

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Updated September 22, 2011

What is the Relaxation Response?

The relaxation response is a state that is opposite to the stress response. Cardiologist Herbert Benson, M.D. coined the phrase after encountering practitioners of Transcendental Meditation in the 1970s, who claimed they could lower their blood pressure with daily meditation.

Upon studying them, he found they could slow their breathing by 25 percent, decrease their oxygen consumption by 17 percent, lower their blood pressure, and slow their heart rate.

In order to make the practice more accessible and scientific, Benson removed the Eastern religious component and distilled the basic technique of Transcendental Meditation, which he says is a component of every major religious tradition or meditative practice—the repetition of a word, sound, prayer, or phrase to the exclusion of other thoughts.

Today, the Relaxation Response is taught at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital, teaching people how to manage the negative effects of stress and reduce stress-related symptoms.

How to Do It

1. Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Try to relax your muscles.

2. Close your eyes.

3. Choose a focus word, phrase, or prayer that has special meaning to you, is firmly rooted in your belief system, or makes you feel peaceful. Some examples are "one", "peace", "The Lord is my shepherd", "Hail Mary full of grace", or "shalom".

4. Breathe slowly and naturally. Inhale through your nose and pause for a few seconds. Exhale through your mouth, again pausing for a few seconds. Silently say your focus word, phrase, or prayer as you exhale.

5. Don't worry about how well you are doing and don't feel bad if thoughts or feelings intrude. Simply say to yourself "Oh well" and return to your repetition.

6. As the time comes to a close, continue to be aware of your breathing but sit quietly. Becoming aware of where you are, slowly open your eyes and get up gradually.

This technique is usually practiced for ten to 20 minutes per day, or at least three to four times a week.

If you have to keep track of the time, try using an alarm or timer set on the lowest volume, so you don't have to keep looking at your watch or clock.

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