Maybe you are familiar with relaxation techniques, and you know about the various ways to bring about the relaxation response, or perhaps you may be wondering, "what is relaxation?" Relaxation is the act of relaxing the mind and body, and can also be defined as the state of being relaxed.
During a relaxation exercise (such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, meditation, or another relaxation technique) muscle tension decreases, blood pressure goes down, the mind becomes calm, and the harmful effects of prolonged stress are counteracted.
The "relaxation response" is the opposite of the stress response.
The stress response is also known as the fight-or-flight response. According to Herbert Benson, in his book "The Relaxation Response," we evoke the fight-or-flight response all the time, but "modern society does not socially accept the fighting or running naturally associated with it."
This means that we are not appropriately using the fight-or-flight response for survival. We can't use the response as intended - imagine what would happen if you encountered a stressful situation, such as an argument at work, and responded by physically fighting or running away? That does not work very well.
The sympathetic nervous system is activated when we are in fight-or-flight mode. Over time this can have all kinds of negative effects (which are the symptoms of stress).
Benson says "there is another response that leads to a quieting of the same nervous system." This other response is the Relaxation Response.
The relaxation response is associated with physiological changes that are the opposite to the changes seen with the fight-or-flight response. The relaxation response can be evoked using relaxation techniques, such as autogenics, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation.
Regularly inducing the relaxation response is most effective in improving day to day living, and results in increased control over the body's responses to stress.
According to Benson, meditation results in changes in oxygen consumption, brain waves, lactate levels, etc - all indicating lowered activity of the sympathetic nervous system. The heart rate decreases by an average of 3 beats per minute and the respiration rate decreases. A restful state is achieved.
During meditation or other relaxation techniques, the subject may not actually feel much different or notice any changes. The physiological changes are occurring nonetheless. This means that whether or not you notice any changes at the time, by doing relaxation techniques you get all of the physical and psychological benefits of the relaxation response, and are protected against the harmful effects of stress.
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