How to Use Dr. Benson’s Relaxation Response
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How you can use the Relaxation Response technique for patient care and self-care.
A tribute to the late Herbert Benson MD
Herbert Benson MD has left the planet, after contributing much to the well-being of those he touched. As a cardiologist, he was an innovator, an edge runner, in the field of integrated medicine with his work on the Relaxation Response, offering the research and techniques to bring alternative mind body medicine into traditional healthcare settings.
Over 10 years ago, after I had been using and teaching his work for many years, I met Dr. Benson. He offered a medical CE program at Lahey Clinic, where my Dad happened to be a surgical patient. Dr. Benson led 200+ healthcare professionals in the Relaxation Response. Following the exercise, he asked for feedback. I was so excited/nervous/impressed (and so weary caring for my Dad) that I actually said my headache was ‘littler.’ As a public speaker, I’m usually more articulate than that! Dr. Benson shared a chuckle with me, in a kindly, mutual experience sort of way.
Many of you have experienced his Relaxation Response. For over 20 years I’ve offered it as a centering exercise and as a stress reducer and have taught it for use in patient care as well as for self-care. With much gratitude to Dr. Benson, here he is via a YouTube channel link to explain the Relaxation Response and lead you through it. I love how he sits patiently, hands folded, simply holding the space for you to have your own experience.
Click on this video to enjoy Dr. Benson leading YOU through the Relaxation Response
Steps for the Relaxation Response
- Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position
- Close your eyes
- Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head and neck
- Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you exhale, say your focus word to yourself
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes
- Do not get up immediately. Stay quiet for a minute or so to avoid dizziness
From The Relaxation Response, by Herbert Benson, MD
Dr. Benson’s work is internationally known and remains current today. I particularly liked this research article, The Effect of Benson Relaxation Exercise on Blood Pressure of Patients With Type II DM. Authors Yanti Cahyati and Peni Cahyati from the Department of Nursing, Poltekkes Kemenkes Tasikmalaya, Indonesia wrote this 2020 article, published in the European Journal of Molecular & Clinical Medicine.
If you’d like to dive deeper into Dr. Benson’s work, here are three useful links
The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital
Understanding the Stress Response. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
A Listing of published research about the Relaxation Response
How you can use the Relaxation Response
As Dr. Benson suggests, try getting up 10 minutes earlier in the morning. After going to the bathroom, practice the Relaxation Response. You can start with 5 minutes, then work up to 10 minutes. Dr. Benson believed strongly in research; consider this your own personal research experiment to see how it changes your day, your experience of well-being. I think you’ll find it worthwhile.
In peace, Gale
Photo credit: photo of Dr. Benson from the Benson Henry Institute webpage