Restoring Health Through Relaxation

Research suggests that relaxation techniques can be used to counteract the stress response, with significant health benefits. Regular relaxation can reduce blood cortisol levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose.

Clinical trials show that relaxation can reduce headaches, pain, anxiety, and menopausal symptoms. At the same time, it can enhance healing, immune cell response, concentration, and feelings of well-being. It has even been shown to improve fertility rates in infertile women.

Research done in the 1970s by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University began to explore the relationship between mental techniques and physiological effects. Benson studied people who participated in transcendental meditation. He coined the term “the relaxation response,” which is defined as “a calm state brought about by sitting quietly and repeating a sound, words, or muscular activity over and over. When everyday thoughts intrude, the person passively disregards them and returns to the repetition.” The relaxation response reflects a physiological state brought about by reducing stress and calming the mind.

The following effects are the result of the relaxation response:

  • Reduced blood pressure

  • Reduced heart rate

  • Slower breathing rate

  • Restoration of blood flow to the extremities

  • Reduction in perspiration

  • Release of muscular tension

  • When you look at the results of the relaxation response and compare them with the list at the beginning of the chapter, it's easy to see how relaxation counteracts the stress response and restores the body to a state of balance.

    As a result of numerous studies in this area, relaxation techniques are used to help people with problems such as hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias, among others. While these skills are useful for people who are managing chronic disease, they are also valuable for promoting health and preventing stress-related illnesses. Make time to explore and learn techniques that help you to relax. Some people use prayer, while others engage in practices like yoga or tai chi. Find the methods that work for you.

    Relaxation and Deep Breathing

    One of the easiest ways to achieve relaxation is to engage in deep, mindful breathing exercises. This can help to trigger the relaxation response. This type of exercise is easy to learn, fast to perform, and requires no equipment. As you continue to explore other methods of relaxation, use the following breathing exercise to help you ease tensions and restore your sense of balance and calm. It will do the health of your body, mind, and spirit a world of good. As you emerge from your restorative relaxation time, remind yourself that you have the power to create your own health and to enjoy all that life has to offer.

    A Simple Breathing Exercise

    This exercise is an excellent introduction to relaxation and to meditation techniques. It increases self-and body awareness. A two-to three-minute “breathing break” during the day is very restorative. To perform this simple exercise, sit or lie comfortably with your hands resting in your lap. Relax your muscles and close your eyes.

    Make no effort to control your breath, simply breathe naturally. As you breathe in and out, focus your attention on the breath and how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

    Take a few moments to focus inward. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your inhalation and exhalation. Pay particular attention to how the breath moves your body. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Notice subtleties such as whether the chest or belly rises with inhalation and how your body responds to exhalation. Don't try to control your breath, simply focus your attention on it. This singular focus brings you into the present moment and into the immediate experience of your body. It often results in slower, deeper breaths that further relax your body. Continue for two to three minutes and then gently open your eyes. Over time, you can lengthen the period of relaxation, if you prefer.

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