Research by Professor Herbert Benson has shown that a number of different relaxation techniques can stimulate the relaxation
response, so which type of relaxation to use is up to the individual. Try them and then use the ones that you have found to
be right for you.
Some of the most common forms of relaxation techniques include:
Passive Muscle Relaxation
· Relaxation Breathing
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In this form of relaxation you tense the muscle groups for 10 seconds and relax
for 30 seconds. Do not practice this form of relaxation if you have high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular
illness without discussing this with your GP, as it can cause elevations in blood pressure. In the
resources section at the end of this session we have included a link to a free on-line course in Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
2. Passive Muscle Relaxation
Passive muscle relaxation does not involve tensing muscles. In this type of relaxation, you imagine that your muscles are in a relaxed state. Research has shown that just thinking about a stressor can cause muscles to tense, and thinking about relaxing
them sends a signal to the brain to relax the muscles. This is a better form
of relaxation for those with high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular illness and is often helpful for those with chronic
pain problems as it aims to avoid muscle tension.
Meditation has been used for thousands of years. Unfortunately
many people incorrectly believe that meditation is tied up with religion but the cardiologist Professor Herbert Benson and
colleagues have been researching, for 30 years, a generic form that is not. Meditation
courses in the UK can cost up to £500 but you can learn the technique at an Adult Education Centre or by reading Professor
Bensons book The Relaxation Response. Detail of this book can be found
in the Recommended Reading section at the end of this session.
Visualisation is another technique for inducing the relaxation response, it also improves
physical and psychological health. It is especially useful for those with an overactive mind.
In this technique we use all our senses of smell, touch, etc to imagine a peaceful, relaxing scene. The scene can be a tropical beach, floating on a cloud, in a beautiful garden scene, or imagining any other
safe, pleasant place. Our thoughts and images have been shown by research to
have an effect on our stress levels. For example one study revealed that watching
distressing images like war films, unsurprisingly increased levels of stress in the subjects and increased the levels of stress
hormones in their blood streams. Whereas watching a relaxation video reduces
stress, lowers the levels of stress hormones in the blood stream and induces relaxation.
Autogenic relaxation is a form of self-hypnosis in which the person imagines they are calm
and their limbs and body are heavy, relaxed and warm. If you choose autogenics
it would be an idea to be taught by an autogenics practitioner.
Yoga, an Indian technique of postures to induce flexibility and relaxation breathing, has
been taught for thousands of years. It is also a useful stress management tool
and helps to induce the relaxation response. Research on yoga has shown that
it helps to lower sympathetic nervous system arousal, lower blood pressure and lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol,
to name a few of its health benefits. Your local Adult Education Centre will
run beginners courses in Yoga should you decide to use this technique.
Aerobic exercise induces relaxation. Research
has shown that exercise reduces stress, anxiety and muscle tension as effectively as a dose of a minor tranquilliser medication. We will be discussing exercise in more detail in the next session, Session 3.
8. Tai Chi
Research has shown that Tai Chi is an excellent relaxation technique and can be a very useful
stress management tool. Your local Adult Education Centre will run courses in Tai Chi.
We discuss Tai Chi in more depth later in this session.
Massage is another technique that helps to induce relaxation and provides us with many physiological
and psychological health benefits. Studies have shown that it helps to lower
the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, circulating in our blood stream, lowers our blood pressure, helps us to sleep,
reduces anxiety and depression.
10. Relaxation Breathing
Relaxation breathing has already been discussed in session 1; it forms the basis of many different
types of relaxation techniques. It is a simple technique but its potential for
lowering our stress levels should not be under estimated. Diaphragmatic breathing
stimulates the relaxation response and so reduces stress.
Click here to be taken to Comparison Between the Fight/Flight Response and Relaxation Response