Relaxation Response and Meditation
“The Relaxation Response” was published in 1968 by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. His book was about a series of experiments into various popular meditation techniques. He established that these techniques had a very real effect on reducing stress and controlling the “fight-or-flight” response.
Meditation is a relaxation process that makes you consciously relax your body and focus your mind on one specific thought for an extended period of time.
By distracting your mind in this way, you can forget the problems that are the cause of your stress. Your body is allowed to clear out the stress hormones that have built up during the day, leaving you feeling relaxed and free from stress.
Simple meditation techniques can be performed by anyone at anytime. At its most basic meditation involves the following steps:
+ Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit
+ Close your eyes
+ Consciously feel your muscles relaxing from your toes to your head. It helps if you say “I am relaxing my toes” etc.
+ When you are completely relaxed focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe I through the nose and out through the mouth in long deep breaths.
+ Continue to breathe in this way until you feel totally relaxed and at peace.
Some people find this a bit boring, so a second technique is to concentrate on something physical rather your breathing. This can be an object or a sound such as the mantra ‘om’ or the word 'one'.
Alternatively focus on a place that you find relaxing and think about the sights, sounds and smells that you associate with that place.
There are other more advanced meditation techniques that are based on the basic outline above but these require time and a designated meditation area for them to be truly effective. A few are described below:
Deep breathing – this is part of the breathing technique used in yoga and involves taking 10 long deep breaths to calm the senses and relax. Many people perform deep breathing before they start to meditate.
Relaxing breathing – lie down on the floor so that every part of your spine is in contact with the floor. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Inhale through your nose so that your abdomen rises fully but your chest only moves slightly.
Exhale through your mouth. This makes use of the lower portion of the lungs that are not generally filled during normal breathing. Relaxing breathing brings more oxygen into the body which gives a slight feeling of euphoria and relaxation.
Relaxing sighing – sighing is the body’s way of letting you know that you are suffering from a lack of oxygen. Sit up straight or alternatively stand up and take a deep breath in. Force the air out until you can’t exhale anymore and then naturally breathe in again. Repeat this as many times as you want to and whenever you feel yourself becoming stressed or overwhelmed.
Mental breathing – with mental breathing you concentrate on the passage of air into and out of the lungs. Start by practicing deep or relaxing breathing for a few minutes in order to prepare the body and mind for meditation.
Then start to imagine the inhaled air entering your body as a positive force and the exhaled air leaving and taking all your negativity with it. This again can be done whenever you start to feel stressed.
Rolling breathing – this is more of an advanced technique for when you can concentrate on your breathing at the expense of everything else. Lie on the floor and put one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Inhale deeply and fill the abdomen (as in relaxing breathing) and then continue to inhale to fill the chest. Exhale completely. The rhythmic nature of this type of breathing is very relaxing.
Progressive muscular relaxation – this is a useful technique for when you are tense with knotted muscles. Concentrate on a set of muscles and contract them as tightly as you can few a few seconds and then relax them until they are as relaxed as you can get them.
This can be done for just the sets of muscles that are troubling you or you can do the whole body systematically so that you are completely relaxed all over.
By learning to control your breathing in a meditation environment you will find it a lot easier to control it when faced with a stressful situation. Stress automatically causes us to increase our breathing rate which can be the precursor to a panic attack or hyperventilation. Learning to associate stress with deep relaxing breathing techniques can greatly reduce the effects that stress has on the body.
Which technique you use is not of importance; find one that is comfortable for you and which helps you to focus on positive rather than the negative aspects of your life that are causing you stress.
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Warning: Stress symptoms can be associated with serious medical conditions. The stress management information and techniques in this section are provided as general guidelines for informational purposes only. You should seek the help of qualified medical professionals if you have health or mental concerns over stress. You should also consult with your health care provider before making major changes in your diet or exercise levels.
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