There was an earlier (2009) healthy memory blog post titled “The Relaxation Response. The first book on the relaxation response was published in 1975. A 25th anniversary of the publication of the first book was published with the same title by Herbert Benson, M.D. with Mirian K. Zipper. Back in 1975 it was revolutionary to believe that the mind played a role in practical medicine. The book was an instant hit and started inroads into the role of the mind in practical medicine. By 2015 mindfulness loomed large.
I believe that the relaxation response is the easiest of all meditation techniques. It is based on Transcendental Meditation, although the secret meditation word provided to TM initiates is not provided. Everyone can provide their own word or object.
The relaxation response can be invoked with any of a number of techniques: yoga or qiqong, walking or swimming, even knitting or rowing. Prayer and religious meditative practices also work. Although meditation and mindfulness are usually thought of in the context of Buddhism and Hinduism, it has also been central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The book provides many examples of how meditation was used to known practitioners throughout these religions.
According to Dr. Benson, “Here is a list of conditions that, to the extent caused or affected by mind/body connections (such as stress and the fight-or-flight response), can be significantly improved or even cured when self-care techniques are employed:
allergic skin reactions
herpes simplex (cold sores)
nausea and vomiting during pregnancy
all forms of pain—backaches, headaches, abdominal pain, muscle pain, joint aches, postoperative pain, neck, arm, and leg pain
side effects of cancer
side effects of aids
Being a physician, Dr. Benson is careful to caution against self-treatment, advising that self-treatment be undertaken under the care of a physician. Should your physician find these techniques objectionable, I would advise finding another physician who has successfully made way into the 21st Century.
Techniques for inducing the relaxation response were provided in the original healthy memory post. Here is a set of updated instructions:
Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system.
Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes.
Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
Breather slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.
Assume a passive attitude. don’t worry about how well you’re doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, “Oh well,” and gently return to your repetition.
Continue for ten to twenty minutes.
Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.
Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and after dinner.
He advises against doing meditation right after eating. Apparently digestive processes interfere with meditative processes.
This list can be regarded as the ideal. Dr. Benson notes that the Relaxation Response can also be elicited while exercising. He writes that if you are jogging or walking to pay attention to the cadence of our feet on the ground—“left, right, left right”—and when other thoughts come into our minds, say “Oh, well,” and return to “left, right, left right. Swimmers can pay attention to the tempo of their strokes, cyclists to the whir of the wheels, dancers to the best of the music, others to the rhythm of their breathing.
In a subsequent post I’ll provide my own personal observations on meditating.