Our brains are wonderfully complex and play a role in every single thought, emotion and physical sensation we experience. This includes every breath, every movement and even every eye blink! The brain is highly sensitive to all types of information coming into it. This sensitivity is the reason why it is important to find ways to manage stressful reactions when unable to prevent them altogether. We can learn to do this by practicing the Relaxation Response.
Herb Benson, MD discovered the Relaxation Response while studying a group of in the early 1980’s and discovered when they practiced Transcendental Meditation, they were able to calm their brains and bodies. He developed a mind-body practice to elicit what he coined the Relaxation Response. According to Dr. Benson, more than 80% of the reasons people seek healthcare is related to stress.
This is likely because of the fight or flight response – the moment when a threat is sensed and the brain begins releasing epinephrine and adrenalin into the bloodstream. This chemical release is connected to a variety of illnesses including high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and even premature aging.
Fortunately, Benson’s Relaxation Response releases brain chemicals which help to calm and relax us. I was fortunate to study with Dr. Benson at the then called Harvard Mind Body Medical Institute learning first hand of the importance of calming a stressed brain.
The Relaxation Response is activated through a repetitive thought, movement or mental focus. Practices that do this include yoga, breathing, any mindful moment – walking, dancing, running and horseback riding. I believe the Runner’s High is actually the Relaxation Response due to the repetitive moment and sound of the feet hitting the pavement. Adding an aromatherapy scent such as Lavender – an essential oil high in linalool can elicit relaxation of the brain very quickly.
Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response
- Find a comfortable position and close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath of a calming essential oil (Lavender or Bergamot)
- Focus on the rhythm of your breath
- Add a mental focus – a single word or short phrase to repeat.
- If you become distracted, return to your mantra and your breath.
One of my favorite mantras is “I am” with the inhale, “at peace” with the exhale.