The term “relaxation response” was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, cardiologist and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute. The response is defined as your personal ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain.
Steps to elicit the relaxation response
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position
- Close your eyes
- Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed. (Relax your tongue — and thoughts will cease.)
- Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word “one”* silently to yourself. For example, breathe in, and then out, and say “one”, in and out, and repeat “one.” Breathe easily and naturally.
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
- Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “one.”*
With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the relaxation response.
*Choose any soothing sounding word, preferably with no meaning or association, to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.