The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson teaches us how to relax by explaining that there are different types of stress ranging from emotional, environmental and physiological. All stress activates the fight or flight response in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Stress happens in everyday life situations and most of the time fighting or running is not an option for us to turn to. Since things are always changing in the world around us nothing is ever certain, which makes mental vigilance a requirement in our society. Even if what we are trying to protect ourselves against is something minuscule like say traffic for example. The multiple studies Benson has conducted prove that stress in the mind puts stress on the body; we know this because blood pressure will rise depending on the amount of exposure a person has to accelerate environmental change and uncertainty, and on his or her ability to adapt.
Society has changed but our innate reactions have not. The involuntary nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system becomes extremely active when the fight or flight response turns on. When activated by stress the sympathetic nervous system secretes hormones like epinephrine, noradrenalin and norepinephrine, which bring about negative physiological changes, including increased blood pressure, heart rate and body metabolism. Life in the 21st century is not going to change anytime soon but we can change our bodies physiological means of dealing with life by learning mindfulness techniques that can help us regulate our stress responses. This is a scientific way of saying exactly what the ancient practice of yoga teaches us… The external should not be what we base our happiness on, joy is an internal experience. Benson recommends eliciting The Relaxation Response as a tool to help us counter act the flight or flight response in the hypothalamus.
Relaxation Response: Four Basic Elements
Our bodies are constantly working for us, even though we are unaware. Get this… though meditation is not a form of sleep or hibernation it does decrease the body metabolism putting the body into a restful hypo-metabolic state where the body’s energy resources are not worked as hard. Hypo-metabolism is associated with a drop in oxygen consumption, decrease in blood lactate (which is associated with anxiety- a very common problem) and increase in alpha wave production (present when relaxed). Meditation in particular has a huge impact on the body: activity of the sympathetic nervous system decreases; lowering heart rate by three beats per minute on average; decreases respiration rate; slows rate of breathing and decreases blood lactate.
In relation to the Yoga Sutra and A Course in Miracles, Benson spoke about how there is a limitless spirit inside us that is contained in our narrow bodies and how our thinking mind is “concerned with events outside ourselves”, which relates to how external factors are the things we cannot change, but we can change our inner thoughts and feelings for the better. The history of how people throughout many cultures and religions used different methods to attempt to redirect their outward attention was described as well. In addition Benson touched on religions that have used different methods to relax overtime and recommended that his readers learn from as many teachers as possible and practice different techniques to test and improve others teachings.
The Relaxation Response is definitely a BOOK I LOVE! It is super scientific which is really interesting and it also gives the practical application (see steps above). Try eliciting the Relaxation Response and let me know how it goes in the comments below!
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