Meditation and the Relaxation Response

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In our current healthcare system, a person’s overall health is balanced by pharmaceuticals, surgery, and self-care, according to Herbert Benson, MD, author of “The Relaxation Response.” As a result of this healthcare model, between 60-90% of healthcare visits are for conditions likely caused by chronic stress. It is his professional belief, that through meditation and eliciting the relaxation response, the harmful effects of chronic stress can be reduced or even eliminated.

The Relaxation Response

The Relaxation Response is defined as the state of deep rest that alters one’s emotional and physical responses to stress.

“The train of our everyday thought is broken when two basic steps that elicit the relaxation response are followed.” Dr. Benson

The two steps, to which Dr. Benson refers, begin the process of transporting a person into this place of deep rest. They are:

  1. The repetition of a word, sound, prayer, thought, phrase or muscular activity.
  2. The passive return to the repetition when other thoughts intrude.

There is no single way to meditate, and no form of meditation is better than the other. Meditation can be a calm or a state of activity. It all depends on the person. What is most important, however, is the healing mechanism in meditation, which is known to relieve stress and cure stress-related illnesses.

How Meditation Helps

It is believed that meditation as a method for relaxation leads to a physical response. In many cases, that physical response initiates a healing process. Meditation can be applied to anyone’s life and has come to be recognized as a helpful therapy for the following illnesses:

  • Chronic Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac Arrhythmia
  • Chronic Pain
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Hostility
  • Depression
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • Infertility
  • and more…

How To Meditate

The goal of meditation is not to empty your thoughts, as is the common misconception; the goal is actually to focus on one particular thought repetitively. To begin, Dr. Benson recommends following these first five steps (see all), which lead to the relaxation response:

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Relax all the muscles in your body
  4. Breathe through your nose
  5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes

Overtime life’s changes become more profound and as stress increases so does the potential for poor health. Meditation can be the key to wellbeing for families and in work environments. Practitioners like Dr. Benson are recommending meditation even to children, who during their adolescent years have a hard time managing stress.


Samueli Institute recently launched brainmindhealing.org to bring together the evidence behind integrative medicine, explore the implementation of mind-body practices in standard care and discuss how the role of the brain and the mind in health and resilience can positively impact the future of our healthcare system. Be sure to visit the site.