❤❤❤ HTML: The Relaxation Response

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HTML: The Relaxation Response

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Meditation - The Relaxation Response

Two excellent examples of stress induced conditions are "eye twitching" and "teeth-grinding. By recognizing the symptoms and signs of being in fight or flight, we can begin to take steps to handle the stress overload. There are benefits to being in fight or flight—even when the threat is only psychological rather than physical. For example, in times of emotional jeopardy, the fight or flight response can sharpen our mental acuity, thereby helping us deal decisively with issues, moving us to action.

But it can also make us hypervigilant and over-reactive during times when a state of calm awareness is more productive. By learning to recognize the signals of fight or flight activation, we can avoid reacting excessively to events and fears that are not life threatening. In so doing, we can play "emotional judo" with our fight or flight response, "using" its energy to help us rather than harm us. We can borrow the beneficial effects heightened awareness, mental acuity and the ability to tolerate excess pain in order to change our emotional environment and deal productively with our fears, thoughts and potential dangers.

This includes any action we take that helps make the environment we live in safer. Physical safety means getting out of toxic, noisy or hostile environments. Emotional safety means surrounding ourselves with friends and people who genuinely care for us, learning better communication skills, time management skills, getting out of toxic jobs and hurtful relationships. Spiritual safety means creating a life surrounded with a sense of purpose, a relationship with a higher power and a resolve to release deeply held feelings of shame, worthlessness and excessive guilt. This includes any technique whereby we seek to change our mental perspectives, our attitudes, our beliefs and our emotional reactions to the events that happen to us.

Many of these techniques are discussed in depth in Section 3 and they include: cognitive restructuring, voice dialogue therapy, inner child work, learning not to take things personally, affirmations and self-parenting. Changing our perceptions of reality is best illustrated by the proverbial saying, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In the Buddhist tradition, this is referred to as developing a "supple mind.

Perhaps the simplest, best way to turn down the activity of our fight or flight response is by physical exercise. Remember that the natural conclusion of fight or flight is vigorous physical activity. When we exercise, we metabolize excessive stress hormones—restoring our body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. For the purpose of stress reduction and counteracting the fight or flight response, we do not need to exercise for 30 to 40 minutes.

Any form of activity where we "work up a sweat" for five minutes will effectively metabolize off—and prevent the excessive buildup of—stress hormones. Get down and do 50 pushups, 50 sit-ups, jumping jacks, jump rope, run in place, run up and down the stairs, whatever. By exercising to the point of sweating, we effectively counteract the ill effects of the fight of flight response, drawing it to its natural conclusion. Frequent repetitions of short exercise are easy to fit into our busy schedules. For full cardiovascular fitness, longer periods of exercise do have additional benefits, but for the purpose of stress reduction, mini-exercise sessions are practical, effective and beneficial. Exercise increases our natural endorphins, which help us to feel better.

When we feel good, our thoughts are clearer, our positive beliefs are more accessible and our perceptions are more open. It is difficult to be, feel or think positive when we are exhausted, sleep deprived or physically out of condition. If we could read the owners manual for the mind, we would find a full chapter on what is called "mind chatter. In order to survive, our mind is always "on"—searching for possible threats, dangers, solutions and explanations.

This is called our "strategic mind. This constant vigilance of the mind not only distracts us with excessive worry but can also trigger the activation of our fight or flight response. This is what the soulful and gentle author Joan Borysenko, Ph. Underneath all the mind chatter and fight or flight anxiety lies a quiet place called our "inner voice", the "observer" or the "witness. As we will soon discuss, a quiet mind calms our overactive physiology, creating a sequence of physiologic and biochemical changes that improve our physical health.

The simplest, most exquisite way I know of to quiet the mind is by eliciting what is called "The Relaxation Response. The relaxation response, discovered by the inspirational author and Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson, M. The relaxation response corresponds to a physical portion of the brain located in the hypothalamus which—when triggered—sends out neurochemicals that almost precisely counteract the hypervigilant response of the fight or flight response. When we follow the simple steps necessary to elicit the relaxation response, we can predictably measure its benefits on the body.

These include: a decrease in blood pressure, diminished respiratory rate, lower pulse rate, diminished oxygen consumption, increase in alpha brain waves associated with relaxation , and in many cases, an improved sense of mental and spiritual well-being. Because the relaxation response is hard-wired, we do not need to believe it will work, any more than we need to believe our leg will jump when the doctor taps our patellar tendon with a little red hammer.

The relaxation response is a physiologic response, and as such, there are many ways to elicit it, just as there are many ways to increase our pulse rate another physiologic response. The solution to overactivation of our fight or flight response is simple: when we take the time to exercise our relaxation response "muscle" we will enjoy the beneficial physiological, biochemical and mental effects. These beneficial effects are measurable whether we believe in the relaxation response or not. Some people do experience immediate emotional calm and tranquility when they learn to elicit the relaxation response, but others do not. We cannot measure the effectiveness of the relaxation response based on how it feels.

Benson likens this to brushing our teeth. We know brushing is "good" for us, whether we feel it works or not. Feeling good is an added benefit. The most important thing is to actually take the time and discipline necessary to elicit the relaxation response. Once elicited, the benefits to our overstressed physiology and biochemistry will be experienced. Additionally, we bypass the fear and anxiety that so quickly narrows our perceptions and infects our beliefs with suspicion and doubt. There are many ways to elicit the physiologic benefits of the relaxation response. The easiest is with a simple two-step method as follows:. Focus on a word or phrase that has a positive meaning to you. Such words as "one," "love" and "peace" work well.

Effective phrases might also include "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," "God grant me serenity," or "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. When you find your mind has wandered or you notice any intrusive thoughts entering your mind, simply disregard them and return your focus to the word or phrase you chose. Be aware that your mind will tend to wander and intrusive thoughts will enter your mind. This is normal. Just allow those thoughts to pass through your mind like a summer breeze passes through an open window. The second step above is related to our ability to "let go" of intrusive thoughts or excessive worries. Benson says "to summon the healing effects of the relaxation response, you need to surrender everyday worries and tensions.

It will try to tell us things like: "This is stupid, why am I sitting here doing this? Remember, whether your mind wanders or your thoughts drift, simply practicing the two steps above will elicit the relaxation response and deliver beneficial physiologic and emotional benefits as predictably as flipping a light switch causes the light bulb to shine. The key to deriving the benefits of the relaxation response is to practice it daily. Benson recommends at least 10 to 15 minutes, once to twice a day. This will produce the maximum benefit. When I first learned this technique from Dr. He told us to treat the relaxation response the same way you treat brushing your teeth. Do it because you know it is good for you.

Whether you "felt" it was a calming, relaxing experience or not, the physiologic benefits of doing the relaxation response are measurable, predictable and repeatable. Practicing abdominal breathing from deep in the stomach can lead to a state of extreme relaxation. This kind of breathing differs from shallow chest breathing, or panting, which actually can cause an increase in nervousness. Abdominal breathing is the kind of breathing that is practiced in meditation or yoga. Progressive muscle relaxation was developed in the early twentieth century by Dr. Edmund Jacobson. It is a program of tensing and relaxing muscles in an organized pattern so that that body "learns" how to release muscular tension.

When it is used in this way it is called systematic desensitization. Yoga is a system of mental and physical exercise that focuses the mind to eliminate distractions. There are various forms of yoga practice, but stages of the training often involve disciplined behavior, mastery of bodily posture, control of breathing, and meditation. In particular, hatha yoga, which focuses on bodily postures and control of breathing, is believed to improve the overall health of the body. Hatha yoga involves engaging the body in a series of postures designed to connect the body's movement with the breath. This practice increases peoples' awareness of their own bodies and thoughts, which often results in a sense of self-assurance and peace, as well as an ability to calm themselves in stressful situations.

There are various forms of creative imagery, including guided imagery, in which a therapist or other person describes peaceful scenes or images that create a restful, relaxed state. In some instances, people may form a mental picture of their own place of relaxation. This procedure often is used to lessen the pain and worry of medical procedures. A study of inner city youth with asthma by researchers at the University of Cincinnati indicates that those who practiced prayer and meditation experienced fewer and less severe symptoms than those who had not. Other studies show that prayer boosts the immune system and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses. A recent survey reported in the Journal of Gerontology of 4, senior citizens in Durham, NC, found that people who prayed or meditated coped better with illness and lived longer than those who did not.

But the question remains: By what physiological mechanisms does prayer impact our health? Herbert Benson's most recent research suggests that long term daily spiritual practices help to deactivate genes that trigger inflammation and prompt cell death. That the mind can effect the expression of our genes is exciting evidence for how prayer may influence the functioning of the body at the most fundamental level. But what about praying for others? On the question of whether intercessionary prayer works, the jury is till out. Slightly over half the research done to date suggests that it helps, wile the rest concludes that there is no measurable effect. Critics of these studies say that there is a big difference between praying more or less mechanically and at a distance for a stranger because a researcher has told you to do so and the heartfelt prayers for friends and relatives which arise spontaneously from within.

Prayer, unlike say the behavior of a rat in a maze, cannot be directly observed, and the subtle effects on self and others are difficult to quantify and assess. Moreover, it would be wrong to view prayer as merely a technique to heal illness and promote physical health. Spiritual practice aims to connect the individual with God or a Higher Power, to open one to the Divinity dwelling within the self, and to make one fully present to life in the here and now. These are not goals that lend themselves to being measured in double blind experiments.

The sense of deep peace and radiant well being that spiritual practitioners in different religious traditions report are also not testable by scientific means. What science can tell us is that people who pray and meditate trend to be statistically more healthy and live longer than those who do not. Whether these boons are merely unintended side effects of still deeper spiritual benefits remains a matter of faith.

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