Relaxation response technique useful for dealing with stress

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Health: Your Choice with Cheryl La Rocque

Every so often I find myself holding in my stress and tension. I can feel the tension in my shoulders, at the back of my neck, and even my jaw joints. This is when I realize I am not paying attention to me, not taking time out to see to my needs, to center my soul, to breathe, to relax.

The Relaxation Response is a crucial component to healing and wellness. In turn, the impact of stress, or rather distress, has psychological consequences and if left unresolved or to accumulate, it can result in illness and disease.

I am no different than most people. I get caught up with work, knit into the wee hours of the night and with life in general, juggling a multitude of tasks, all the while ignoring the warning signs of stress and/or distress.

When I eventually pay attention to the warning signs – such as a splitting headache, my shoulders are up around my ears, and/or I find myself holding my breath, I stop all of the tasks I am working on. Then I isolate myself and practice the relaxation response, a technique much like meditation. In fact, research found the relaxation response elicited the same physiological changes as observed during the practice of Transcendental Meditation. 

The following is one of my experiments which reaffirms that relaxation techniques work and have positive effects on health and wellness.

For the record, I have normal blood pressure. The normal blood pressure range falls between 139 systolic pressure and 89 diastolic pressure. (However, a physician should determine what your normal blood pressure is.) During one of my regular physical check-ups, I was having my blood pressure taken (it read perfectly normal). I told the nurse who was taking my blood pressure I could lower my blood pressure more and I could do so in a matter of minutes by using a relaxation technique. While she was sceptical, she agreed to my experiment to recheck my blood pressure after I did my relaxation technique exercise.

I closed my eyes, did the specific breathing techniques I learned in yoga, calmed my mind and centered my soul. I opened my eyes and nodded to the nurse to retake my blood pressure. She did and looked up surprised. My blood pressure was so low she was having trouble finding it, “I know you have a blood pressure because I just took it minutes ago, and, you’re sitting up and smiling at me. I would not have believed you if I hadn’t seen it for my own eyes,” the nurse said.

While this sounds like a party trick, it is not. It is a testament to the positive health benefits of the Relaxation Response technique, yoga breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques like biofeedback and meditation.

The Relaxation Response is a simple meditative technique developed by Dr. Herbert Benson and a group of other doctors at Harvard’s Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, in Boston, Massachusetts. You can learn more about this technique in Dr. Benson’s book, The Relaxation Response, (Avon Books, 1975). Or you can take up yoga or other relaxation techniques such as meditation. Even a stroll through a park or along the waterfront or a quiet side street can quiet and clear your mind and settle your nerves.

Organizations: Harvard, Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, Avon Books

Geographic location: Boston, Massachusetts

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