"How can we deal with our feelings of stress? ... modify our behavior by regularly invoking the relaxation response ... it may have an important place in your life." Herbert Benson, MD, The Relaxation Response, 1975
In the late 1960's, 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."
A recent interview of Dr. Benson by ABC News provides a very good introduction to the Relaxation Response. The video of the interview can be found here: Easy Ways to Take the Edge Off
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).
When eliciting the relaxation response:
- 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.