Modern life is fast-paced and often quite frantic — people are literally running everywhere. It has become difficult to understand how to relax and let the mind be at peace, and yet, this is something we all so desperately need.
If we can't relax, the body continues to build cortisol, which in large quantities can be extreely bad for our organs and our body's ability to heal. In medicine, this hormone is often referred to as 'the stress molecule'. Finding ways to relax and allow the mind and body to rest has never been more important.
A pioneer in mind body medicine, Dr. Herbert Benson coined the term 'relaxation response' as the ability for the body to stimulate relaxation. This has been referred to as a scientific term for meditation.
What is the Relaxation Response?
The relaxation response corresponds to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which – when triggered – sends out neurochemicals which counteract the hyper activity in the nervous system due to stress and agitation. This release of neurochemicals has been said to be responsible for the experience known as spiritual or inner peace.
Dr. Herbert Benson describes it as:
The relaxation response is the ability of the body to induce decreased activity of muscle and organs allowing the body to heal and the mind to settle down.
The relaxation response is also responsible for:
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Increase in Alpha brainwaves
- Improved sense of mental and spiritual well-being
- Increased energy levels and feelings of euphoria
- Better quality sleep
- Reduced muscle tension
Regular practice of the relaxation response has been shown to help reduce weight and keep it off as well as reverse the effects many common disease and illness. These benefits help counteract the toxic effects of chronic stress and allow the positive energy of life to flow more freely.
How Can You Trigger The Relaxation Response?
The brilliant thing about the human body is that it really doesn't take much for us to begin healing and recovering from the mental strain we often encounter.
Relaxation is a hard wired physiological response which means that there are many ways to trigger this state of being; just as there are many ways to trigger stress in our lives.
To activate the relaxation response all we really need is:
- 10 to 20 minutes where we can sit in a comfortable position.
- Quiet or silence.
- Eyes closed or fixed on an object (candle or buddha for example)
- Deep, consistent, slow breathing.
- Openness and non-judgmental focus (not worrying about whether or not you are successful in achieving a deep state of relaxation.)
- Something to focus on to redirect our manic thoughts (focusing on slow deep breaths works very well.)
With daily practice and by allowing relaxation to come at it’s own pace, the response should come effortlessly.
Ten to twenty minutes. That's all it takes to reset and recharge. That's what makes our bodies so absolutely miraculous when you think about it.
We stress ourselves out, and all it takes is ten to twenty minutes of peace to reset. The only conflict is that we need to actually take the time to stop and calm down in order to relax and heal. For some people, even 10 minutes of silence might be too much to ask, but the difference it makes in one's life can be stunning.
There are many different ways to incorporate this process into a healing, relaxation experience. Some choose meditation, others choose playing piano, while others do yoga. Yoga is perfect for triggering the relaxation response because it incorporates all of those things into a 20-30 minute session.