Rationale And Technique For Elicitation Of The Relaxation Response

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A variety of techniques can be used to elicit the relaxation response, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, yoga, exercise, repetitive prayer, and the presuggestion phase of hypnosis. Although all of these strategies result in the same physiological response, two components appear to be essential to achieving the relaxation response: mental focusing and adopting a passive attitude toward distracting thoughts.

The following is an instructional set developed by Benson and his colleagues for elicitation of the relaxation response.

Step 1. Pick a focus word or short phrase that's firmly rooted in your belief system.

Step 2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

Step 3. Close your eyes.

Step 4. Relax your muscles.

Step 5. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, repeat your focus word, phrase or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.

Step 6. Assume a passive attitude. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, "Oh, well,'' and gently return to the repetition.

Step 7. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.

Step 8. Do not stand up immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.

Step 9. Practice this technique once or twice daily.

Sample focus words, prayers, phrases include: One, Ocean, Love, Peace, Calm, Relax, ''The Lord is my shepherd,'' "Shalom," "Insha'allah," or "Om."

Regular practice at eliciting the relaxation response has been shown to produce chronic physiological changes by at least two research groups. With repeated practice, patients can experience the benefits of relaxation throughout the day not only during actual practice periods.

It is the clinician's responsibility to help the patient develop a personally relevant and effective technique.

CHANGE IN OXYGEN CONSUMPTION (%)

CHANGE IN OXYGEN CONSUMPTION (%)

HOURS

Figure 2 O2 consumption during sleep and the relaxation response.

HOURS

Figure 2 O2 consumption during sleep and the relaxation response.

Meditation and the Relaxation Response

It is important to emphasize that adherence to relaxation regimens will be maximized by selecting a strategy that is compatible with the patient's belief system and customary practices. It is useful to ask patients about their belief systems and to adapt an approach compatible with them. For example, a religious person might be more comfortable focusing on a familiar repetitive prayer, while someone interested in physical exercise might be more comfortable performing a repetitive exercise. The manner in which the response is elicited is immaterial since the psychological and physiological results are the same.

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