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The Relaxation Response - Peter Maarbjerg

Herbert Benson: “The Relaxation Response.” Avon Books, New York 1976.



The author - who is Associate Professor of Medicine at The Harvard Medical School and Director of the Hypertension Section of Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital - introduces a universal technique to reduce stress. The description of stress is very thorough and worth reading. The author proves to be deeply read in all the subjects he treats.


When a single situation requiring behavioral adjustment occurs again and again, the so-called fight-or-flight response is repeatedly activated. Ultimately this repetition may lead to higher blood pressure (hypertension) on a permanent basis. It is the authors underlying theory, that this is what happens in man in the development of permanent hypertension. The chronic arousal of the fight-or-flight response goes from a transient rise in blood pressure to permanent high blood pressure.


But there is another response, that leads to a quieting of the nervous system. It is claimed to be evident that hypertensive subjects can lower their blood pressure by regularly eliciting this other response, which is called the Relaxation Response.


This technique is very simple. It has always existed in the context of religious and philosophical teachings, which is illustrated by a very extensive study of all kinds of mysticism.


The most interesting part of the book, however, is the mention of Transcendental Meditation. TM has been fully tested by Benson with the agreement of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The conclusion is most interesting. The results of practicing the TM-technique are mainly good, but these progresses are in no way unique to TM: The frequency and severity of headaches prior to the regular practice of TM showed that among seventeen patients only three were helped and one was actually worse (TM claims that there is absolutely no harm whatsoever combined with the practice of the TM-technique).


In conclusion it is said, that it is not necessary to use the specific method and specific secret, personal mantra taught by TM. Tests at The Thorndike Memorial Laboratory of Harvard have shown, that a similar technique used with any sound or phrase or prayer of mantra or syllable brings forth the same physiological changes noted during TM.


Relaxation response has been extracted from age-old techniques and consists of four basic components:


1) A quiet environment


2) A mental device - a syllable repeated silently or loud or fixed gazing at an object is a way to help break the train of distracting thoughts.


3) A passive attitude


4) A comfortable position.


Relaxation response has not yet been examined by us and is not yet recommendable, but the mention of TM makes this book worth reading.