A. Our minds and bodies work together. Many physical symptoms and nervous symptoms are related to emotional stress. Someone has said, “We call it serenity when the mind is free of tension; we call it relaxation when the body is. They are really one and the same.” Relaxation is a powerful healing tool. There is research evidence that relaxation can lessen the effects of many physical symptoms as well as alleviating many psychological conditions. Persons with stress-related high blood pressure may find that regular relaxation will lower their blood pressure enough to decrease or even to eliminate the need for medication.
Relaxation has been shown to reduce many of our negative emotions - anger, anxiety, fear and depression. Many of these negative emotions are connected with heart disease. One study of men who took an afternoon nap showed that they had 30% to 50% less risk of heart attack. In another study individuals who were taught relaxation techniques were able to fall asleep four times faster than they were previously. Relaxation can even boost the functioning of our immune system.
Relaxation will not cure everything but it is an amazingly effective way to enhance our quality of life. Relaxation is almost discouraged by our culture. Our life styles are rushed and our schedules are crammed. Many of us don’t know how to relax. Relaxation can help all of us. Living without a daily time to relax is similar to driving your car with the brakes on all the time.
When we are under stress our bodies and minds are geared for action. Our blood pressure and heart rate increases, our respiration increases, our muscles tense, the adrenaline flows. When we relax our heart rate and blood pressure decrease, our respiration decreases, our muscles relax, we feel calm.
To learn how to relax your body and mind, set aside ten to twenty minutes twice a day for relaxation, meditation or prayer. Taking just these brief periods out of your busy day will improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
There are two basic steps to relaxation.
1. Repeat a word, prayer, or phrase. Say this over and over.
2. Passively ignore thoughts that come to your mind and return to repeating the word, prayer or phrase.
Herbert Benson, M.D., who defined bodily calm as “the relaxation response” and discovered the steps which elicit it, has more recently discovered that faith is a helpful factor in learning to relax. Dr. Benson teaches his patients to pick a focus word or short phrase to say repetitively as described above. He was surprised that most of his patients chose prayer to focus their thoughts. He also found that when people chose a word or phrase that sprang from their deep beliefs and convictions they were more likely to continue the relaxation. In other words, if you use a prayer or phrase with deep meaning to you you will be more consistent in setting aside the time for doing this.
A faith focus also enabled Dr. Benson’s patients to elicit positive memories which aided their health. Because of their faith they visualized wellness which facilitated their recovery. Their belief also helped them disconnect from unhealthy worries or negative thinking. Dr. Benson reluctantly began to explore the “faith factor” and he came to believe that we are biologically wired for faith. To learn more about this read Timeless Healing, The Power and Biology of Belief by Herbert Benson, M.D.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28