In today's busy world of near constant motion, many of us have forgotten how to relax. Not only does this diminish the quality of our lives, but modern research has shown that lack of time spent relaxing is actually detrimental to our health. Taking a few moments every day to slow down and deeply relax has many benefits for our bodies and minds.
You may have heard of the Fight-Or-Flight response. This is your body's natural response to the perception of a threat, and it results in a number of dramatic physical changes. Under conditions of threat, your body automatically mobilizes its resources by increasing blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, and blood sugar levels as well as releasing a number of potentially damaging stress hormones. This stress response does not even require an actual emergency! It can be triggered merely by everyday worries and concerns. And if you have too much stress in your life, this state of physical arousal becomes a more or less permanent condition. In short bursts the Fight-Or-Flight response can help you survive a threat or even achieve great things. However, if your bodies remain in this state of high anxiety for too long you become emotionally and physically depleted. Fortunately this stress response is largely under your own control, and by changing your lifestyle and adding regular periods of deep relaxation to your day, you can reverse the negative effects of stress on your body and mind.
Medical research continues to reveal the astonishing power of relaxation to impact your health. Just as stress has a pervasive negative effect on your physical health, regular periods of relaxation have been shown to repair much of the damage caused by the stress response. Regular periods of deep relaxation have been scientifically proven to reduce your risk of heart disease, strengthen your immune system, counteract the effects of aging, and even reduce your risk for a variety of serious diseases.
Relaxation exercises are the current psychological treatment of choice for all types of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic attacks. You cannot be simultaneously anxious and relaxed, so by learning how to induce a state of relaxation, you have an effective way of counteracting your anxiety. Regular periods of relaxation have been associated with a variety of measures of psychological wellness, and relaxation has been shown to aid in the prevention of many more serious psychiatric disorders.
What is less known than the negative effects of stress, are the positive effects of relaxation. In his groundbreaking work as the Director of Behavioral Medicine at Harvard University, Dr. Herbert Benson identified a unique physiological response that takes place in the body during deep relaxation which he named "The Relaxation Response". This naturally occurring set of physical changes has been shown to heal and repair the physical damage caused by tension and stress. The relaxation response is only elicited under conditions of deep relaxation such as those achieved during meditation and other focused relaxation exercises. Just relaxing in front of the tv or in the garden is not enough. Specific relaxation techniques must be used to achieve this special healing state.
In a series of well documented studies Dr. Benson discovered that the health benefits of The Relaxation Response are extensive and effect your whole physical system. Modern medical research has built upon these initial findings, and now relaxation techniques have become a first line treatment for a number of common medical conditions. More information about this can be found on our Research Page. Some relaxation techniques that have been scientifically proven to produce the Relaxation Response, such as yoga and meditation, are ancient. Others such as progressive muscle relaxation are quite new. If you are interested in learning more about how to relax, we present a variety of powerful relaxation techniques in our comprehensive Online Mindfulness Course.