This is my version of “the relaxation response”, a simple way to bring calm into your day. It is a natural bodily mechanism, first scientifically studied by Dr Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School. Practised regularly for 20 minutes a day, it can cut stress by a half or more over a few weeks.
The response is triggered by all sorts of activities including self-hypnosis, meditation and yoga. This is one of many ways to experience it. (Benson imagines that the Relaxation Response is identical with meditation, but that is a Western misconception of what meditation really is.)
This exercise is in fact the same as a well-known self-hypnosis technique.
You can do it any time of day; if you find you fall asleep, do it when you wake up. Best not to do it lying in bed last thing at night.
You can set an alarm clock or come back when you like. It’s just like waking up in the morning or on the beach, you always come back and wake up fully within a few moments.
Obviously, don’t do this while driving a car or using machinery.
Twenty minutes most days is good. Longer can be very enjoyable, shorter on occasion can still be useful.
Research by Harvard University Medical School has shown major benefits – ranging from reduced period pains and heart lower pressure to more self-confidence and increased cheerfulness – from doing this for 20 minutes every day over a couple of months.
For the total time you can set an alarm clock. To time the different stages you can guess the time or do it subjectively – when you are relaxed, move on. It is actually OK to open your eyes and look at the clock occasionally.
- Sit or lie comfortably. If your head is unsupported, find the position where it feels weightless.
- Breathe slowly and deeply in a relaxed way.
- On each outbreath, say the word CALM, once, silently to yourself.
- In your mind’s eye picture CALM written in front of you. Imagine you are writing out the word CALM over and over again in a slow, soothing rhythm. Distinctly notice the size, shape and colour of the letters which is the most pleasurable and soothing. Distinctly notice the speed and rhythm you prefer. Distinctly focus on each and every letter each time you write it.
- Persist through any initial boredom or impatience – choose to ignore those.
- A point will come where the mind clicks into the slower rate of mental speed of the subconscious mind. If your minds wanders, that’s OK, just come back to CALM when you can.
- Continue this until you begin to feel a distinct beginning of relaxation. (20-30 slow breaths, or at first longer, maybe up to five minutes or possibly more.) Then, feel through your body for the place of peace within you in this moment. That is simply the place where it feels most pleasant to rest your attention right now. It might be in one hand, both feet, your arms, a shoulder, the middle of your head or chest – anywhere.
- Allow a word to slowly float into your mind which describes the feeling in the place of peace. This may take a good many seconds, be patient. Feel the place of peace and wait rather passively for a word to appear on its own which fits the feeling. The word might be CALM, but equally could be different – relaxed, heavy, happy, tingling, warm, protected, joyful, light, peaceful, detached, peaceful – anything. Both the body part and the sensation may be different, or the same, each time you do this.
- Repeat step 3 onwardswith this new word, eg saying and seeing and writing out PROTECTED or RELAXED (for example, or whatever else.)
Focus your entire attention on the part of the body which feels good. Feel the feeling, concentrate on it, bring your mind back to that good feeling if it wanders.
Doing this only as a relaxation exercise, continue now for as long as you like.
If you get so relaxed that you can’t be bothered to do the exercise, that’s excellent – just sit or lie quietly for as long as your like.
To get the researched health benefits, do it for a minimum of twenty minutes daily.
Research studies of medical and educational programmes based on regular relaxation have impressive benefits.
>>> Patients with chronic pain experienced less pain, more activity, less anxiety, less depression, less anger, and they visited their doctor 36% less.
>>> Patients who suffered from anxiety or mild or moderate depression were less anxious, depressed, angry, and hostile
>>> Patients undergoing painful X-ray procedures experienced less anxiety and pain and needed one-third the amount of pain and anxiety medications usually required.
>> One-hundred percent of insomnia patients reported improved sleep and 91% either eliminated or reduced sleeping medication use.
>>> Secondary school students exposed to a relaxation response-based curriculum significantly increased their self-esteem.
>>> Inner city middle school students improved exam results, work habits and cooperation and decreased absences.
>> Open heart surgery patients had fewer post-operative complications.
>>> Migraine and cluster headache sufferers found they had fewer and less severe headache
>>> Infertile women achieved a significantly higher conception rate and take-home baby rate, and decreased levels of depression, anxiety, and anger.
>>> Women suffering from symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) experienced a 57% reduction in physical and psychological symptoms. The more severe the PMS, the more effective the relief with the relaxation response.
To take the next step in having a more relaxed attitude to life, ring me directly. I’m happy to answer questions or arrange, in Bristol, a free, no-obligation half-hour introductory meeting. Please click here for contact information.