RELAXATION RESPONSE THERAPY
Building on the work of Swiss Nobel Laureate Dr. Walter R. Hess and himself, Dr. Herbert Benson described a physiological response that is the opposite of the fight-or flight response.  It results in decreased metabolism, decreased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and decreased rate of breathing, as well as slower brain waves (Wallace, Benson, Wilson, 1971).  Dr. Benson labeled this reaction the "relaxation response" (Benson, Beary, Carol, 1974).

The fight-or-flight response occurs automatically when one experiences stress, without requiring the use of a technique.  In contrast, two steps are usually required to elicit the relaxation response. They are: (1) the repetition of a word, sound, prayer, phrase or muscular activity and (2) when other, everyday thoughts intrude, there is a passive return to the repetition (Benson, 1975; Hoffman, et al, 1982).  Many different methods can be used to bring forth the relaxation response including:  progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, autogenic training, yoga, and repetitive physical exercise.  In addition, many forms of prayer can also be used.  These include repetitive prayers such as the rosary as in the Catholic tradition, centering prayers in Protestant religions and pre-davening prayers in Judaism.  The specific method used usually reflects the beliefs of the person eliciting the relaxation response (Benson, 1984).  The method may be secular or religious, and performed either at rest or during exercise.

Dr. Benson's research conducted at the Harvard Medical School and that of others documented that relaxation-response based approaches used in combination with nutrition, exercise, and stress management interventions resulted in the alleviation of many stress-related medical disorders.  In fact, to the extent that stress causes or exacerbates any condition, mind-body approaches that invariably include the relaxation response have proven to be effective.  Because of this scientifically documented efficacy, a physiological basis for many millennia-old mind-body approaches has been established and has overcome a great deal of initial professional skepticism.

It is essential to understand that regular elicitation of the relaxation response results in long-term physiologic changes that counteract the harmful effects of stress throughout the day, not only when the relaxation is being brought forth (Hoffman, et al, 1982).  These mind-body approaches have been reported to be effective in the treatment of hypertension (Stuart, et al, 1987), cardiac arrhythmias (Benson, Alexander, Feldman, 1975), chronic pain (Caudill, et al, 1991, insomnia (Jacobs, et al, 1993; Jacobs et al, 1996), anxiety and mild and moderate depression (Benson, et al, 1978), premenstrual syndrome (Goodale, Domar, Benson, 1990), and infertility (Domar, Seibel, Benson, 1990).

As a result of this evidence-based data, the relaxation response is becoming a part of mainstream medicine.  Approximately 60% of US medical schools now teach the therapeutic use of relaxation-response techniques (Friedman, Zuttermeister, Benson, 1993).  Relaxation therapy is now recommended in standard medical textbooks and a majority of family practitioners now use them in their practices.

In our Foundation, you will be taught the proper use of Relaxation Response and will initially practice your technique in the presence of a trained instructor. As you learn how to control the response, it will ultimately become part of your daily routine.


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