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The Relaxation Response


I think it is safe to say that we live in a relatively fast-paced world. As comedian Brian Regan points out, there are instructions on how to microwave your pop tarts (if you don’t have the time to put them in the toaster oven)! Jokes aside, the impact of our rapidly changing environment on our minds, emotions, and bodies is real. Without noticing, we have become a culture that is plagued with anxiety, attention deficiency, and hyper-tension. Simply, we are stressed.

Understanding that our culture is probably not going to regress to the technologies and pace of the stone-age, how can we cope with, and even thrive in this rapidly changing, frenzied society?

We have to take a step out of it and re-charge. It is similar to a NASCAR race. The cars are zipping around, revving their engines, and going as fast as they can. However, without the pit-stops, they cannot complete the race. They will run out of gas, burn through their tires, or even spontaneously burst in flames. This is not the result that we are looking for.

So, how do we get pit stops in our lives? We need to create them and they need to be rejuvenating, or, effective. Many people have objections to being lazy or “wasting time.” As comedian/actor Jerry Seinfeld (who has practiced Transcendental Meditation for forty years) points out, it isn’t about time management, but about energy management. While creating his Seinfeld series, he would spend twenty minutes while others took their lunch break, and would meditate to “re-charge his batteries.” He said that he could not conceive accomplishing what he did without the much needed benefit of meditation.

I recently finished reading the book entitled The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson M.D., which was first published in 1975! They conducted one of the first studies linking stress to hypertension and how to reduce both. We may take that link for granted now, but the studies continue to be conducted and similar evidence is present in neuro-science journals today. These studies confirm the therapeutic and medical benefits of daily relaxation.

There are studied stress-related events that directly impact on our minds and bodies: the death of a spouse, divorce/separation, illness, marriage, occupation change, retirement, finances, debt, change in living conditions, school, lack of sleep, and even vacations, to mention a few. Tests show that a lot of stress is just due to living in our modern day society. We cannot avoid all of these, but we can respond. So, how does one attain the relaxation response?

Benson states that there are four essential components that would elicit the Relaxation Response:
1. A Quiet Environment
2. A Mental Device—a sound, word, phrase, or mantra repeated silently or aloud, or a fixed gaze at an object.
3. A Passive Attitude—not worrying about how well one is performing the technique and simply putting aside distracting thoughts to return to one’s focus.
4. A Comfortable position.
It is suggested that one continues to contemplate, meditate on, of be mindful of a chosen mental devise for ten to twenty minutes once or twice a day.

This may seem difficult for some to slow down, but the mental health and medical benefits are fairly conclusive. It does not mean that we should withdraw entirely from society or be lazy! However, it will allow us to interact more resourcefully. In fact, studies show that alpha waves (of relaxation) can be found with more abundance during meditation than during regular sleep patterns and cycles.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, or are going through any number of the environmental stresses listed above, know that you are not alone. I hope that you can elicit the relaxation response and find a little bit of calm in our frantic world! If mindful meditation is not for you, that is alright. Spend twenty minutes doing something that you enjoy, or are passionate about. The important thing is to take a step out of the fast-paced loops and re-charge.

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