Relax Your Way to Better Health and Clearer Thinking

Dec 22, 2012   //   Blog, Health, Research

by Kathryn Wage

Western medicine has come to realize that mind and body are connected: when our mind is troubled, disease follows close behind. What has seemed mysterious and shrouded in religious practice or strongly held belief systems can now be explained as “taking care of our minds” by focusing our thinking on calming healing practices.

Dr. Herbert Benson, from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has led the way in this understanding and described something he called the “relaxation response”, the opposite of stress. When we are stressed our body reacts with a genetically programmed survival response: “flight or fight”. When in this mode we experience a rush of hormones allowing us to respond to dangerous situations quickly for our own protection. That worked really well when daily life was filled with unpredictable hazards in the environment such as dangerous animals. It still works well when we are doing battle on the freeways or in athletic contests.

Trouble is, our bodies react the same way at the office when we are overwhelmed or under performance pressure. It’s the same response at home when troubles increase and we find that we cannot keep up with financial or family demands. It’s the same response in children if they are in a classroom where the learning environment is stressful and they are over concerned about performing well. It’s even the same response if we are watching a suspenseful movie or program on TV. All of this “stress” floods our bodies with hormones that over time lead to a wide variety of ailments and diseases.

There are many ways to get to the “relaxation response” but one thing is certain, to be helpful in maintaining good health, the response needs to be practiced. The great news is you can practice the relaxation response yourself, or you can find support from a wide variety of sources.

Dr. Benson outlines these simple steps to the “relaxation response”:

  1. Pick a personal focus word, sound, prayer or short phrase for example, “peace,” “one” or “the Lord is my shepherd”
  2. Sit comfortably in a quiet place
  3. Close your eyes
  4. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do , say your focus word, sound, or phrase or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale
  5. Assume a passive attitude and don’t worry about how well you’re doing. Move other thoughts out of your mind when they appear.
  6. Continue for 10 or 20 minutes, time yourself by peeking at a watch or clock
  7. When you are finished, continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, gradually allowing other thoughts to return. Open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising
  8. Practice this technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.

Wishing you good health, in mind and body and here to serve your needs at the California Learning Connection!

Center For Communication Skills, Speech & Language Pathologists, Fresno, CA