Today I am introducing a well-known procedure that is referred to by many as Benson’s Relaxation Response. It is something I have my sports clients learn how to do as part of their mental skills training outside of hypnotherapy sessions with me.
Of course, it is not just us hypnotherapists and other kinds of complementary therapists who believe in mind-body medicine.
Though we many talk about “mind” and “body” as if they operate independently of each other—they do not. They cannot operate so. The fact that you are reading a blog of this nature clearly shows you have some understanding of this, so I am not going to go into further depth about it here.
Today we trace many physical illnesses to emotional stress: ulcers, ulcerated colitis, migraine headaches, arthritis, asthma, allergies and even cancer. In therapy we see people who come in with stomach problems, high blood pressure, headaches and skin lesions and leave without such physiological problems once they experience healing in their mind and with their emotions.
As I said, I am not going to spend too much time exploring the mind-body connection with you here, though the fact that mind and body are part of the same holistic thing is presupposed throughout this blog and the process I am sharing with you today. Research has been conducted on school children to show that when they are happy and playing, enjoying themselves, the white blood cell count and leucocytes in their bloodstream were higher than when they were anxious prior to an examination, much research has been conducted on people who meditate regularly and during deep meditation to show the state of mind affects the physiology drastically.
This is relevant to us here when looking at relaxing and focusing our minds as athletes and runners (my main focus, but can be applied to all other kinds of sports and activities). Due to this fundamental holistic nature of the body and mind, it also becomes impossible for two drastically opposing emotions to be experienced physically at the same time.
Therefore, it is impossible to have overriding anxiety when one is very deeply physically relaxed. This is incredibly important to sports people.
The kinds of more advanced relaxation processes I get my clients working on aim to produce a relaxed body that allows them to mentally associate a relaxed physiology induced through hypnosis with a relaxed healthy mindset when running and training.
Back in the 70s, 80s and 90s, a physician named Herbert Benson constructed a process that worked by calming, slowing and relaxing the mind in order to subsequently relax the body.
Benson’s work is aimed at health development, rather than with enhancing athletic performance, but his processes have been adopted by athletes and runners in particular understand the benefits of this type of process. Much of what we are focusing on here is mental training and the ability to use our mind and our own resources to care for ourselves.
Being able to focus and relax properly is vital to being able to be in control of oneself and care for oneself in such a way that it enhances our sporting performance.
As I have already touched upon and will discuss in more depth in a later blog entry, Benson’s work initially was in relation to using relaxation techniques to enhance health and well-being – something which most people tend to be aware of these days, though much fewer actually adopt and systematically engage in!
The process that I am instructing you about today is heavily influenced by the field of Transcendental Meditation (TM) and was adopted from this work by Benson. TM was incredibly popular in the US and then here in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, with millions reportedly actively learning and applying it. Today many people still engage in it, despite its much more commercialised nature.
Benson’s Relaxation Response that I am going to show you how to do, was borne out of the field of transcendental meditation and is a very similar, slightly simplified version of it. I have tweaked it slightly too.
Today, the techniques can be found in many of Benson’s books if you’d like to investigate further and there are some variations of it. Basically, there are seven steps that you follow to engage the relaxation response – which is an important precursor to what we are moving on to next week.
1. Firstly, you choose a word that you are going to focus upon; ideally one that is meaningful to you.
( Many hypnotherapists use gentle words such as ‘calm’ or ‘relax’ and the NLP co-creator Richard Bandler uses the word ‘soften’ in many of his recordings. Ideally though, do use a word that resnates well with you that will keep you focused and will enhance focus and relaxation)
2. Secondly, in a place where you will be undisturbed for the next 20 minutes or so, get yourself into a comfortable position with a relaxed posture, ideally with your arms and legs uncrossed. Let yourself be symmetrical and balanced in posture if at all possible.
3. Next up, take a good deep breath and you exhale slowly, allow your eyes to close.
4. With your eyes closed, spend some time imagining your muscles relaxing and suggesting to yourself that the stillness of your body is relaxing your muscles. You might imagine colours spreading through them, sensations moving through them or even imagine the nerves within them becoming quiet. Work your way through your body and relax the muscles of your body.
5. With your muscles relaxed, now continue to breathe gently and naturally, and no longer interfering with your breath, just letting it happen all by itself – let your body breathe as you observe it and then proceed to repeat your focus word that you chose in the first step on each subsequent breath that you exhale.
6. Again, just observe any thoughts that come in to your mind and do not resist them or concern yourself with them, let them pass and just watch them. Be a detached observer of what goes on while all the time returning with some focus to that word and keeping your mind and attention trained in on that word. You may well wander off from time to time, that’s ok, just bring it back to that word having realised what you’ve done.
Please do not think of this in terms of doing it well or not. There is no right or wrong way, just practice remaining focused on that word as best as you can.
7. Finally, you proceed with this for 15 to 20 minutes or so until you open your eyes and go about your day.
I recommend doing it in the mornings, early. Most people tend to report greater gain and benefits from doing this in the morning and using the benefits for more of the day.
As a result of running through this process, the Relaxation Response (RR) that Benson refers to has been established. Benson claims that this RR makes the right brain more accessible to suggestions—something that is going to be very important as we think about using hypnosis and hypnotherapy in more depth in coming weeks. This kind of mental skills training is going to subsequently aid the imagery techniques and enhance suggestibility when we come on to them later on.
There have been a wide number of different sports taking on this process and applying it to their sports. I have tweaked the process very slightly above to suit runners.
Practice this process for at least a week and it will prepare you for more advanced relaxation processes and hypnosis techniques that I’ll be mentioning here on the blog in coming weeks.
Get focused, get relaxed and get the eye of the tiger…
You have no idea how tough it was for me to resist putting a Rocky III montage with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing on the blog today!!
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Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
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