Health Benefits of Relaxation
"Take any medical condition and stress will probably have been shown to exacerbate it."
(Mark Forshaw, Author and Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Social Sciences, University of Coventry)
Research has indicated that regular elicitation of the relaxation response along with other stress management strategies can have a beneficial effect on a number of physiological and psychological health problems, In fact it can help any health problem that is caused or exacerbated by chronic stress. Relaxation and other stress management techniques are not a panacea for all ills, but should be used as part of an overall stress management strategy. A few examples of medical conditions that can be helped by the relaxation response together with other self-care strategies, include conditions such as:
ÿ Irritable bowel syndrome
ÿ Heart Burn
ÿ Chronic obstructive airways disease
ÿ Heart Beat Irregularities
ÿ High Blood Pressure
ÿ Coronary Artery Disease
ÿ Heart Disease
ÿ Open Heart Surgery
ÿ Angina pectoris
ÿ Heart attack
ÿ Pre Menstrual syndrome
ÿ Hot flashes
ÿ Menstrual cramp
ÿ Panic attacks
ÿ Psychosomatic illness
ÿ Alcohol/drug misuse
ÿ Back pain
ÿ Temporomandibular joint pain
ÿ Multiple Sclerosis
ÿ Rheumatoid Arthritis
ÿ Herpes simplex
ÿ Chronic Pain
ÿ Chemotherapy Patients
ÿ Pain in general
ÿ Post surgery
Before you begin your relaxation it will be helpful for you to read these few basic relaxation guidelines:
ÿ Find a quite place where you wont be disturbed for 5 10 minutes
ÿ Loosen any tight clothing, shoes, glasses/contact lenses.
ÿ Either sit in a comfortable chair or lie on the settee or a bed.
ÿ Turn down the lights
ÿ Draw the curtains
ÿ The room should not be too hot or cold
ÿ Dont practice relaxation on a full stomach
ÿ Its vital to remain passive and not worry how you are doing
ÿ Distracting thoughts will occur, dont fight them, simply observe them and refocus on your relaxation.
ÿ Be aware of your breathing. Most of us breathe with our chests, shallowly, to relax we need to slow our breathing to 8 10 breaths using the diaphragm. Put one hand on your stomach palm face down, place your other hand on your chest, palm face down, if you are breathing with your diaphragm, your hand on your stomach should rise higher than the hand on your chest.
ÿ Its vital not to practice relaxation only when you are stressed. In order to get the full benefit we need to practice relaxation daily even when were are not stressed.
ÿ Dont expect instant, overnight results
ÿ Its vital to practice at least once a day
ÿ Dont drive or operate machinery straight after practicing relaxation
ÿ Dont practice relaxation whilst driving or doing any other activity that requires your concentration
ÿ If you have any form of chronic medical or psychological health problem check with your GP that this is suitable for your particular condition.
ÿ Never practice relaxation to treat undiagnosed symptoms, always see your GP for an accurate diagnosis.
ÿ If you find you have any uncomfortable symptoms while practicing relaxation discuss these with your GP.
ÿ Meditation may enhance the action of certain drugs in some individuals. Have your doctor carefully monitor your dosage of anti-anxiety or anti-hypertensive medications if you are regularly practising meditation.
Its advisable that people who are suffering schizophrenia should not practice relaxation techniques unless advised that they can by their qualified medical practitioner.
How To Relax
The relaxation technique below is the one taught to stress management groups at Professor Herbert Bensons Mind Body Medicine Institute.
Pick a focus word or short phrase thats firmly rooted in your personal belief system. For example, a non-religious individual might choose a neutral word like "one", "peace", "love". A Christian person desiring to use a prayer could pick the opening words of Psalm 23, "The Lord is My Shepherd"; a Jewish person could choose "Shalom".
Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Close your eyes.
Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head and neck.
Breathe slowly and naturally, repeating your focus word or phrase silently as you exhale.
Throughout, assume a passive attitude. Dont worry about how well you are doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself - Oh well, and gently return to the repetition.
Continue for 10 - 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for a minute or so, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes open. Then do not stand up for one - two minutes.
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.
Practice this technique once or twice a day.
(Benson H. The Relaxation Response in Mind Body Medicine (1993): How To Use Your Mind For Better Health, Goleman D, Gurin J. Consumer Reports Books)
When stressful events occur in our lives at home or at work we can help to calm ourselves and reduce our stress by practicing a very shortened form of relaxation called Relaxation Minis that take only a minute or so to practice.
These minis can even be used while receiving dental treatment or undergoing other uncomfortable procedures.
Where to Obtain Relaxation Audiotapes
There are a variety of sources from where you can purchase relaxation audiocassettes. Local bookshops, Health Food shops and your local Library are a few sources. The local Library is possibly the best place because you can try different cassettes till you find one that you like and then you can purchase a copy. There is also a link to a company specialising in stress/relaxation audiotapes called Talking Life at the end of this article.
Some people say they havent got time to practice relaxation and some people would say that this is just the time that you need to practice relaxation.
As Stephen Covey so eloquently quoted in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to cut down a tree.
"What are you doing?" You ask.
"Can't you see?" comes the impatient reply,
"I'm sawing down this tree."
"You look exhausted!" you exclaim,
"How long have you been at it?"
"Over five hours he returns,
and Im beat! This is hard work."
"Well, why dont you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?" you inquire.
"I'm sure it would go a lot faster".
"I dont have time to sharpen the saw", the man says emphatically,
"Im too busy sawing!"