The Relaxation Response: A body response to elicit to cultivate health and wellness

The relaxation response* is the opposite of the fight or flight response. It was identified by Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D. of Harvard Medical School in 1975 as a result of his research on the practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. In this research, Dr. Benson collaborated with Robert Keith Wallace who was doing similar experiments also with T.M. practitioners as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University in California at Irvine..

The experiements on the T.M. practitioners, led him to conclude that their meditation practice resulted the following physiological effects in them:

  1. Lower their heart rate,
  2. Lower their breathing rate, and
  3. Lower their blood pressure 

While the lowering of heart rate and breathing occur immediately during the session of meditation and end soon thereafter, lowering of blood pressure occurred over a period of regular meditation and it lasted much longer. Dr; Benson subsequently labeled these changes resulting from meditation as the relaxation response.

Dr Benson proposes that the elicitation of the relaxation response be the antidote for our ever present flight or flight response resulting from perceived threats to our wants for survival, our likes and dislikes. Meditation is one good way to elicit the relaxation response. Deep breathing is another.

The Relaxation Response is closely associated with the activity of parasympathetic division of the autonomous nervous system, feeling of calm and biochemical DHEA triggering the release of the rest and digest hormone called acetylcholine.

We have to choose to elicit this response with our own volition. Not being a natural mode of existence, we fall out of it to our default fight or flight mode when we stop paying attention to sustain it.

*Benson, Herbert and Klipper, Marian Z. "The Relaxation Response". New York: Harper, 2000.