Sunday, May 25, 2008

Melt Away Stress

Do you have an effective technique for melting away your stress?   If you can dedicate 15 minutes a day, you can rejuvenate your body and sharpen your mind, as well as reduce stress-related symptoms, such as insomnia.  In Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks, Dr. Julian Whitaker and Carol Colman write about a technique called the Relaxation Response for reducing stress and improving relaxation.

The Relaxation Response
Whitaker and Colman write about how they use the Relaxation Response as part of their wellness program:

People often believe mistakenly that in order to truly relax, they need to take a drink or take a pill.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Your body can do the job on its own if you let it.  At the Whitaker Wellness Institute we teach a technique called the relaxation response.  Developed by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Harvard Medical Institute, the relaxation response can soothe the spirit and help the body wind down after a hectic day.

Rejuvenate Your Body, Freshen Your Mind
Whitaker and Colman write that the relaxation response rejuvenates your body and freshens your mind:

The relaxation response involves a wide range of physiological changes.  Oxygen consumption is decreased, the heart rate slows down, muscles relax, and blood pressure can drop.  The best news of all, however, is that the relaxation response is a state of deep relaxation you can elicit yourself in order to rejuvenate your body and freshen your mind. 

Decrease Stress-Related Symptoms, Including Insomnia
According to Whitaker and Colman, you can reduce stress-related symptoms and improve your self-assurance:

Continual practice of the relaxation response will bring feelings of increased control over the details of your life and the sense that even your body's physiological reactions can be brought under control.  Many people who practice the relaxation response experience a greater sense of self-assurance and a decrease in stress-related symptoms, including insomnia.

How To Use the Relaxation Response
According to Whitaker and Colman, here's how you can practice the Relaxation Response:

  • Step 1. Allocate 15 minutes in your schedule to relax
  • Step 2. Sit in a comfortable position
  • Step 3. Choose a focus word
  • Step 4. Repeat the word as you exhale
  • Step 5. Relax your muscles
  • Step 6. Keep breathing evenly and repeat your word

Step 1. Allocate 15 minutes in your schedule to relax
Whitaker and Colman write:

Identify fifteen minutes in your schedule, preferrably early in the evening, before dinner, for a regular session.  Arrange a time when there will be no distractions.  Keep a watch or clock within sight so you can check it periodically.  You want to commit the full time to this endeavor.

Step 2. Sit in a comfortable position
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

Step 3. Choose a focus word
Whitaker and Colman write:

Choose a focus word or short phrase that has some resonance for you.  It could be a word such as "peace" or the beginning of a prayer or saying.

Step 4. Repeat the word as you exhale
Breath slowly and repeat the word silently as you exhale.

Step 5. Relax your muscles
Whiteaker and Colman write:

Relax your muscles, starting from your head and neck and moving down toward your toes.  Consciously sense each body part as you go.

Step 6. Keep breathing evenly and repeat your word
Whitaker and Colman write:

Keep breathing evenly and repeating your word.  If and when other thoughts intrude, do not rush from them but instead gently accept that they exist.  Move past them with a kind of "yes-but-later" attitude.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • The Relaxation Response is proven 15 minute technique for melting away stress.
  • The Relaxation Response reduces oxygen consumption, slows your heart rate down, relaxes your muscles and lowers your blood pressure.
  • Continual practice of the Relaxation Response improves your self-assurance and descreases stress-related symptoms, including insomnia.

What's interesting for me is that I've heard about various relaxation techniques, and they all seem to have the same things in common:  focus on breathing and relax your muscles from head to toe.  One technique that I liked the most focuses on a blue sheet rippling over the ocean at night, rather than focusing on a word or phrase.  It seems like all roads lead to the same destination.

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