By Kathy Gruver
This article was originally published in the May/June 2012 issue of Massage & Bodywork.
First, let’s examine the stress response and how it affects our bodies. The stress response is an important evolutionary process that evolved as our alarm to danger. This fight-or-flight response creates a cascade of hormones that affects brain function, digestion, heart function, muscle tone, and more. The opposite of that reaction is the relaxation response, which calms the stress response and releases feel-good hormones. The stress response was beneficial in warning us against immediate danger, like a saber-toothed tiger, but our modern-day stresses are not as dynamic. It’s not a saber-toothed tiger threatening our lives; it’s the economy, the Internal Revenue Service, job insecurities, family pressures, our boss, and other daily stresses that never seem to subside. When we don’t get a break from our reaction to that stress, it starts to manifest as problems in our bodies. Studies have shown that increasing the relaxation response not only slows heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and lowers cholesterol, it also slows the genetic expression of aging. That’s right—relax more, age slower.
The Relaxation Response
So, what types of things invoke the relaxation response? Getting a massage, of course, but affirmations, breath work, meditation, qigong, tai chi, visualization, and yoga are some other things we can do for ourselves. Another effective group of techniques taught at the Benson-Henry Institute are called “minis.” These are mini-meditations that take just a few minutes and can be done almost anywhere.
Mini #1: Countdown
Count very slowly to yourself from 10 down to zero, one number on each out breath. Breathe in deeply, and on your first out breath say, “10” to yourself. Repeat, and with the next out breath, say, “nine,” working your way down to zero. When you get to zero, notice how you feel.
Mini #2: Up and Down
As you breathe in, count slowly up to four; as you breathe out, count slowly back down to one. As you breathe in, say quietly to yourself, “One ... two ... three ... four,” and as you breathe out, say quietly to yourself, “Four ... three ... two ... one.” Do this several times.
Mini #3: Square Breathing
On the in breath, visualize a vertical line and then a horizontal line. On the out breath, visualize another vertical line and horizontal line, completing a square.
These are just a few versions of minis that I’m providing here, compliments of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine.
Kathy Gruver, PhD, is a massage therapist, Reiki Master, and public speaker. She’s been involved in healing since 1990. Contact her at www.thealternativemedicinecabinet.com.