“Pick one, sit quietly and repeat the phrase or movement and relax your muscles. Disregard all other thoughts. The goal is to break the pattern of everyday thinking,” said Herbert Benson, MD, director emeritus of the MGH Benson-Henry Institute. Benson continued to outline the steps of the relaxation response during a visit to the MGH Revere HealthCare Center late last year, educating members of the Senior Wellness Program about its benefits.

He first identified the relaxation response approach in 1975 to help reduce stress and its negative effects, including inflammation and high blood pressure. “We have the extraordinary ability to heal ourselves,” said Benson. “And anything that finds its roots in stress can benefit from eliciting the relaxation response.”

Some participants at the event said they were familiar with Benson’s work and shared success stories from past experiences using mind-body techniques. One attendee shared that she had read his book in the 1970s when she was working in a high school with at-risk teens. She practiced the relaxation response with her students and immediately saw the benefits, which included better focus and behavior during class. 

According to Benson, the same two steps–the repetition of a phrase mantra or movement, and the conscious act of putting other thoughts out of mind – have been found in religious practices, meditations and alternative medicine practices for thousands of years. “We have discovered nothing new,” he said. “But we can add this to the modern approaches to medicine and well-being.”

This article was published in the 01/11/19 Hotline issue.