The Relaxation Response was originally released thirty years ago. It was written in 1975. When it was new, the concepts of mind over body and increasing health by reducing stress were very fresh.
Unlike a great deal of the literature on non-traditional medicine and health, this book is written from a thoroughly researched, medical perspective. The author, Herbert Benson, M.D., is a physician, researcher, and member of the faculty at the Harvard Medical School.
The book provides an excellent description of the physical changes that take place during two types of human responses to the environment. We’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” response. When humans lived in the wild, in danger from ferocious animals, this response was very useful. When faced with a dangerous situation, our bodies automatically fill with adrenaline and we prepare to either fight or run.
That response produces a sudden increase in blood pressure. Continually triggering this response results in long-term elevated high blood pressure. High blood pressure, in turn, results in heart disease, stroke, and a large variety of other ailments — all of which lead to pain, suffering, and early death.
Clearly, this is to be avoided.
But is is also the case that our modern society is filled with stress-induced versions of the fight or flight response. We rarely face off against a wild tiger, but we frequently come face to face with difficult people, heavy traffic, irritating customer service experiences, etc.
All these stresses of modern life can trigger the same physiological changes as the fight or flight response. And, of course, result in the same bad health effects.
The second response Benson discusses is what he calls the Relaxation Response. This is the opposite of the fight or flight response. The relaxation response is triggered when we can slow down, calm our minds and our hearts, and allow our physical body to be calm and stress free.
Benson demonstrates how we can bring on this physical response through specific techniques, including meditation. He shows, further, that continued triggering of the relaxation response results in lower blood pressure, less heart disease, etc.
The bottom line is very simple. You can train yourself and your body to elicit this response. Doing so will have a permanent positive impact on your physical and mental health. Obviously worth doing.