WORK AND RELAXATION make music together.
They are the up and the down, the yin and the yang, the rhythm
of a good life.
Relaxation is good for you. Over the past
40 years, a tremendous amount of research has been done on relaxation
and meditation, and the findings are truly amazing. Relaxation
can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help prevent
heart disease, relieve or even prevent headaches, reduce pain,
help control hypertension, help you sleep better and cure insomnia,
alleviate panic attacks, improve your ability to come up with
creative solutions to problems, increase your memory and ability
to learn, improve your energy level, improve your self-esteem,
reduce depression, improve your relationships and your health,
and make you feel better in general.
But the kind of relaxation these folks
studied was not what most of us mean when we say, Yeah,
I had a relaxing weekend. They were studying a more concentrated,
more profound form of relaxation, and you cannot get it watching
The relaxation that produces those results
requires you to relax your mind as well as your body.
One of the major players in that research
is a medical doctor named Herbert Benson. He coined the term
relaxation response, which is what he calls the natural,
physical changes that take place when people meditate or relax
profoundly. Its the antidote and flip-side of the fight-or-flight
response the adrenaline-pumping reaction we get
to dangerous, threatening or stressful situations.
Bensons first experiments were on
practitioners of TM (Transcendental Meditation), a form of mantra
meditation. A mantra is a word or phrase repeated over and over
to oneself. If this is done with a passive, non-forcing attitude,
it changes your body. Heartbeat and metabolism slow down, the
level of blood-lactate goes down, and the electrical pulsing
of your brain slows down and becomes more rhythmic.
Benson found you can repeat other words
besides the Indian mantra given to students of TM and it produces
the same changes. Some forms of Yogic and Zen meditation also
produce the same changes. So do Autogenic Training and Progressive
And when you relax like that for twenty
minutes once or twice a day, all kinds of good things happen
to your body. Its extremely healthy and it feels good.
Its psychologically healthy. Its the antidote
People who relax like that have a less
intense reaction to stressful situations, and they recover from
them faster than people who dont. In other words, instead
of a persons heartbeat going from, say, 70 to 120 beats
per minute during an argument and returning to 70 in an hour,
it might go from 70 to only 100 beats per minute, and return
to 70 in a half hour. That kind of change is healthy for
your body and good for your relationships and gosh darn it, its
just more fun! Stress is unpleasant.
When blood-lactate levels drop during relaxation,
it stays down afterwards. This is one reason you feel so good
afterwards. Blood-lactate has something to do with anxiety. When
you measure the blood-lactate level of someone who feels anxious,
youll find a lot of it. When you give someone a shot of
lactate intravenously, they suddenly feel anxious. A certain
percentage of people will have an immediate panic attack.
I could go on and on the amount
of research on this subject is extensive but Im
going to give you a technique you can use to produce the relaxation
response for yourself. It works very well, and its all
But keep in mind there are hundreds of
ways to produce the relaxation response, and if you dont
like this one, there are plenty more to choose from. This one
is basic, however, and will produce the relaxation response were
looking for. Here it is:
How to Relax
1. Get into a comfortable position and
close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Relax.
2. Repeat some word or short phrase over
and over to yourself.
3. When you notice yourself thinking about
something else, gently start repeating your word or phrase again.
4. When you think your time is up, open
your eyes and look at the clock. If you arent done yet,
close your eyes and keep repeating.
Repeat your word or phrase fast or slow
whatever is best for you. You can repeat it to the rhythm
of your breath or not whatever you like.
The most important part of the process
is Step 3. Biofeedback research has confirmed peoples personal
experience: Trying does't help. People in biofeedback
training who try to lower their blood pressure are the
only ones who cant do it. When you try to concentrate or
try to relax, you wont be able to. You need a passive,
let-it-happen kind of attitude.
Your mind will often wander from your repeated
word or phrase. No need to be bothered by that. Just bring your
mind back to your repeated word or phrase. Over and over again.
Its the process of doing this
thats good for you not some end state or goal you
Drifting off and noticing it and bringing
your mind back to your repeated phrase
is the process. And its this process that gives you all
The attitude to have is a combination of
persistence and acceptance. You persist in repeating your word
and you accept it when your mind wanders, but you still persist
in repeating your word again, while accepting that you wander
Most of the studies were done on people
who did this kind of relaxation 15-20 minutes, once or twice
a day, so thats what I recommend. Put a clock where you
can see it.
By the time the 15 or 20 minutes are over,
youre usually going to feel very relaxed, which is why
I dont recommend you set an alarm or buzzer to tell you
your time is up. It can jar you, and thats the opposite
of the relaxation response.
Dont expect anything. Sometimes youll
feel deeply relaxed and almost blissful afterwards, sometimes
you wont. Its a good session either way. Sometimes
your mind will drift, sometimes it wont. Its a good
session either way. And sometimes youll just fall asleep,
and that just means you probably didnt get enough sleep
the night before. Even thats okay: naps are good for you
Since you can pretty much repeat anything
you want and it will work, I suggest you repeat something that
has some meaning for you. The shorter, the better. Soft sounds
Ms and Ns and Shs work better
(are more relaxing) than hard sounds: Ks and Ps and
During the relaxation response, your brainwaves
slow down and become more steady and rhythmic. These are called
alpha and theta brainwaves. Theres
a good deal of evidence that we are more suggestible in those
states than in our normal waking state (a beta brainwave
pattern). Since youre already in this suggestible state
when you relax, you can (and might as well) make use of it by
giving yourself suggestions.
The word or phrase you repeat can be a
suggestion, and/or at the end, when youre still relaxed
with your eyes closed and your time is up, you can take a minute
or two and give yourself some positive suggestions. For example:
When I open my eyes, Ill feel refreshed and alert,
or, Tonight I will have a dream that will give me an idea
for a solution to a problem.
You might as well take advantage of your
suggestibility while you have it.
Thats all there is to it. It takes
a little time, but its worth it. This is something that
not only has long-term benefits, but also feels good in the short-term.
If you'd like to read more, I recommend
Benson's book, The Relaxation Response.
THAT'S NOT ALL. Relaxing yourself makes
the world a better place. You make a scientifically-verifiable
difference to your family, friends, and the world at large by
relaxing yourself regularly.
Experiments by psychologist Gary Schwartz
showed that people who relax regularly have lower anxiety levels
and fewer psychological problems.
Regular relaxation also improves your ability
to pick up subtle perceptual cues and increases your empathy.
And research by Ronald Riggio, Ph.D., proved what our everyday
experience tells us: moods and attitudes are contagious.
Add these findings together and it means
that if you relaxed regularly you would be better at resolving
conflict with people; youd be able to come together with
people more harmoniously to reach compromises that are good for
everyone. The world needs more people like that.
And since moods are contagious and since
relaxing regularly puts you in a better mood and makes you more
calm and relaxed, the people around you will also be in a better
mood and be more calm and relaxed, which is good for them like
its good for you.
You can help your children and your spouse
and your friends and your co-workers be healthier, happier and
have better relationships just by relaxing yourself.
Everything goes better with relaxation.
Work. Relationships. Sex. Social interaction. Talking with children.
Relaxation is good.
Its an old Chinese saying that if
you want to change the world, change your government, and if
you want to change your government, change your family, and if
you want to change your family, change yourself. You can make
a step in that direction by relaxing.