Relaxation: Ways to Calm Your Mind
September 20, 2004
By Herbert Benson, M.D., and Julie Corliss
Newsweek, Sept. 27 issue - Over the past three decades, scores of studies have confirmed the benefits of what we call the "relaxation response," a state of mental calm during which your blood pressure drops, your heart and breathing rate slow, and your muscles become less tense. Practicing the relaxation response on your own is simple. Once you're comfortable with it, you can use it to cope better with stresses from road rage to performance anxiety. Kids can benefit, too. Studies of inner-city middle-school students have documented better grades, work habits and cooperation among those who learned the relaxation response.
Here are three simple ways to elicit the relaxation response:
Meditation: Our original approach to evoking the full relaxation response is a form of this ancient practice. Choose a short phrase or prayer that is rooted in your belief system, such as "peace" or "the Lord is my shepherd." Sit quietly in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, neck and head. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you exhale, say your word or phrase silently to yourself. Don't be concerned when other thoughts come to mind. Just acknowledge them and return calmly to your phrase.
Ideally, you'll continue the exercise for 10 to 20 minutes, but even five minutes of deep relaxation can leave you calm and refreshed. Place a clock nearby if you need to keep track of time—don't set an alarm. And when you're finished, sit quietly for a minute before resuming the day.
Paced respiration: Start by inhaling slowly. As you exhale, say the number "five" silently to yourself. Breaths should be deep enough to cause the belly to expand fully (no points for holding your stomach in here). After pausing briefly, take another slow breath, and think "four" as you exhale. Continue at your own pace, counting down to one. Practice this for 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and again in the evening.
Repetitive activities: You don't always have to sit quietly to evoke the relaxation response. You can do it while walking, jogging, playing a musical instrument or carrying out simple repetitive tasks such as knitting. Yoga, tai chi, meditation and repetitive prayer are other ways to put yourself in this healthful frame of mind.