On edge? Find calm with Benson's relaxation technique

Try Herbert Benson's proven five step method to turn down overwhelm.


Feeling under pressure can lead to us feeling stressed. This is because when we sense we are under threat in some way, our inbuilt fight/flight response gets activated.


We have no control over this mechanism, as it is part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which regulates bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and digestion.


But we can get involved when its triggered because the ANS consists of two separate systems that work in opposition to each other.


The sympathetic system mediates the fight/flight aka stress response; it revs us up to deal with challenge. The parasympathetic system does the opposite. It slows things down.


Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, mindful coloring, yoga practice or picturing a peaceful place encourage the body to switch over to the ANS’ rest and digest parasympathetic system.

Herbert Benson, the founder of the Harvard Mind-Body Institute, named the inbuilt physiological changes that occur when the stress response is off the relaxation response (Benson, Beary and Carol, 1974).


He found that the body's automatic relaxation response could be entrained using a simple meditative approach.


How to initiate Benson's Relaxation Response

1. Get comfortable. Whether sitting, standing or lying down, uncross the legs and allow the arms and hands to rest.


2. Gently close the eyes (no need to squeeze shut) or lower your gaze to the floor.


3. Scan your body for any obvious areas of tension that you can relax a little more.


Tip! Many of us (including me) tense our bellies unconsciously, see if that's true for ou and if it is let your belly relax completely.


4. Breathing only through the nose, if that works for you, find and focus your attention on the sensations of breath in the nostrils, throat or belly.


5. Each time you exhale, silently say to yourself "one".


Tip! It's the focus on the exhale and repetition of a word so that thinking is inhibited that is important not the word you use. So, if the word "one" has negative connotations for you, feel free to pick something else.


If you are only doing this for a set amount of time, every now an again look at a clock. Best not to use an alarm, it may make you jump and reduce the sense of calm!


Finally, don't expect to feel a change. Trust that your body is doing things internally that you can't detect.


Did you have a go? I'm curious to know how you found this famous relaxation response. You can tell me in the comments below or message me privately. I love to hear how people find the techniques I share.


Take care of you.