As much an inborn mechanism as the stress response, the Relaxation Response is used to combat the negative effects of stress in a number of ways. A basic component in all of our programs, it is a key factor in mind body medicine.
The Relaxation Response
In the late 1960s, in the same room in which Harvard Medical School's Walter Cannon performed fight-or-flight experiments 50 years earlier, Herbert Benson, MD, found that there was a counterbalancing mechanism to the stress response. Just as stimulating an area of the hypothalamus can cause the stress response, so activating other areas of the brain results in its reduction. He defined this opposite state the "relaxation response."
The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension).
A interview of Dr. Benson by ABC News provides a good introduction to the relaxation response. The video of the interview can be found here: Easy Ways to Take the Edge Off
- Your metabolism decreases
- Your heart beats slower and your muscles relax
- Your breathing becomes slower
- Your blood pressure decreases
- Your levels of nitric oxide are increased
If practiced regularly, it can have lasting effects. Elicitation of the relaxation response is at the heart of the BHI's research and clinical mind/body programs.