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How To Gain Maximum Benefit From This Course | Session 1: - Stress | Session 2: - Relaxation | Session 3: - Stress and Exercise | Session 4: - Stress and Nutrition | Session 5: - Stress Resistant Thinking
Stress Management for Health Course
Session 2: - Relaxation


Relaxation Training Introduction


"Regular elicitation of the relaxation response has been scientifically proven to be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress related disorders. In fact, to the extent that any disease is caused or made worse by stress the Relaxation Response can help."

(Prof. Herbert Benson MD, Mind Body Medicine Institute)


Research indicates that people with conditions partly caused or exacerbated by stress like insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression etc., can have an oversensitive fight/flight response and as a result have higher levels of stress hormones circulating in their blood stream than people without.  A useful strategy in helping to lower stress is to learn relaxation which helps to reduce the arousal of the sympathetic nervous system that triggers the fight/flight response creating the opposite biochemical and physiological effect to the fight/flight response.  We are often told to learn to relax but we are not taught how to relax.


Fortunately just as our bodies have an inbuilt fight/flight response mechanism it also has an inbuilt mechanism for triggering relaxation.  This is called The Relaxation Response.  We all experience pressure and stress at some time in our lives.  For most these are brief episodes, however if the flight-flight response is triggered too frequently it can put us at higher risk of developing a stress related health problem.


One of the coping strategies we can use to help us increase our stress resistance is the practice of relaxation techniques on a regular basis.  Relaxation is an excellent cushioning technique that can be used where its impossible to remove the stressor.  Research in USA shows that people under stress who practice regular relaxation have body organs less affected by the stress hormones than do people under stress who do not practice relaxation.


"The ultimate goal of any relaxation program is to help you to relax whenever and wherever you feel anxious and tense."


When we become tense one of the actions of the fight-flight response is to cause our bodies muscles to become tense.  This is useful in the short term, however it can cause problems in the long term.  Chronic muscle tension can cause headaches, neck and back pain plus it also maintains our anxiety even after the original difficult even has been resolved.  To help turn off this muscle tension and the fight-flight response we need to become aware that our muscles are tense and to be able to use relaxation techniques to reduce this muscle tension.


Relaxation training is a skill and like any other skill it takes time and practice to master it and it needs to be practiced on a regular basis not only used when we are having difficulty.   Sometimes people say they have not got the time to relax.  If this is correct then this is exactly the time to make time to practice relaxation.  Some people are taught that you must always be active, busy and productive and to sit down doing nothing is almost a sin.  Sitting down doing relaxation is not sitting down doing nothing and being unproductive.  In fact, the opposite is true, if you regularly practice relaxation it will actually make you more efficient and productive.


As a result of the evidence based data; the relaxation response is becoming a part of mainstream medicine.  Approx 60% of US Medical schools now teach the therapeutic use of the Relaxation Response techniques (Friedman, Zuttermeister, Benson 1993).  They are recommended therapy in Standard Medical textbooks and majority of family practitioners now use their practices.

(Mind Body Medicine: Herbert Benson MD congressional Testimony Sept 22 1998)


What Actually is Relaxation


Many people think relaxation is sitting with our feet up watching the television or reading a book but this is not so, the relaxation response is a totally different state. You do not get the same beneficial biochemical and physiological changes while watching TV as you do when practising relaxation.  Research using EEG monitors to monitor brainwave patterns, of people watching television and others using relaxation, show that practising relaxation causes the brain to switch to alpha type brain waves that indicate relaxation.


Relaxation is not Simply Doing Nothing

Contrary to popular belief, relaxation does not simply mean doing nothing.  Instead it involves carrying out a relaxing but purposeful activity, it can be informal - something which takes your mind off the worries of the day, like reading, listening to music or going for a walk.  But sometimes these sorts of things alone are not enough to combat the stress response.  Then we need to try specific techniques such as relaxation breathing or muscle relaxation, which can produce rapid results when used properly.  They can be used just before or after a stressful incident, to produce a calming effect.


Relaxation Audio File


Types of Relaxation Techniques


There are a variety of different relaxation techniques you can use for stimulating the relaxation response.  What type you use is totally up to you.  All these relaxation techniques have been shown to work and its a matter or choice which one you use.  Try them all and then use one which you have found to be right for you.  For example: 

    Progressive Muscle Relaxation

    Passive Muscle Relaxation

    Diaphragmatic Breathing




    Guided Imagery



    Tai Chi



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 clearance from your GP.


2.    Passive  Muscle Relaxation

In this type of relaxation you dont actually tense your muscles, you use your imagination to imagine that your muscles are in a relaxed state.  Research has shown that just thinking about a stressor causes our muscles to tense, and just thinking about our relaxed muscles will send 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.


3.    Meditation

Meditation has been used for thousands of years and the cardiologist Professor Herbert Benson and colleagues have been researching a generic form of meditation for 30 years.  Unfortunately many people incorrectly believe that meditation is tied up with religion, Professor Herbert Bensons generic meditation is not. 


4.   Autogenics

Autogenic relaxation is a form of self-hypnosis in which the person imagines they are calm and that their limbs and body are heavy, relaxed and warm.  It would be an idea if you chose this form of relaxation to do it under the guidance of an autogenics practitioner.


5.    Floatation

In flotation the person is totally enclosed in a tank of warm water, you are totally cut off from all sound, light and you float in the water.


6.    Guided Imagery

Guided Imagery is a useful relaxation technique if we have an overactive mind.  In this technique we use all our senses to imagine a peaceful scene.  It can be a tropical beach, imagining ourself floating on a cloud or a peaceful garden scene.  We try to use all  our senses of smell, touch, etc. to imagine the scene.


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Session 2: Relaxation - Health Benefits of Relaxation

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