The Benson Relaxation Method

The essential factors:

  1. Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer or muscular activity.
  2. Passively disregarding everyday thoughts (which inevitably come to mind) and patiently returning to your repetition.

The method summarised:

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position
  3. Close your eyes
  4. Relax your muscles, progressively from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head and neck
  5. Relax slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale
  6. Assume a passive attitude. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself “oh well,” and gently return to your repetition.
  7. Continue for ten to twenty minutes.
  8. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising
  9. Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.

You can also elicit the Relaxation Response while exercising. If you are jogging or walking, pay attention to the cadence of your feet on the ground - “left, right, left, right” – and when other thoughts come into your mind, say “Oh, well,” and return to “left, right, left, right.” Of course, keep your eyes open! Similarly, swimmers can pay attention to the tempo of their strokes, cyclists to the whir of the wheels, dancers to the beat of the music, others to the rhythm of their breathing.

(Adapted from the AHPC Training Manual by Don Robertson)

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