The Science behind Mindful Meditation
We can’t prevent stressful events from happening, but we can take specific actions to process our feelings and come back to a calm feeling.
Mindful Meditation and The Relaxation Response
Dr. Benson’s work was the foundation of a now-burgeoning field of study. Dr. Benson is a founding member of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
Both within and beyond Harvard, extensive research now explores the neurological benefits of mindful meditation. Preliminary results show that mindful meditation and the relaxation response can increase blood flow to different regions of the brain and expand grey matter in the areas of the brain associated with memory and emotion.
Indeed, research shows that mindful meditation is one of the most effective ways to stimulate your relaxation response. When your mind is focused, and you resist the temptation to let it wander, that’s the essence of mindful meditation training. And consistent focused training in mindful meditation will help you achieve a state of deep health and wellness.
The Relaxation Response is essentially the opposite reaction to the “fight or flight” response.
The fight or flight stress response occurs naturally when we perceive that we are under excessive pressure, and it is designed to protect us from bodily harm. Our sympathetic nervous system becomes immediately engaged in creating a number of physiological changes, including increased metabolism, blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, dilation of pupils, constriction of our blood vessels, all that work to enable us to fight or flee from a stressful or dangerous situation.
The Relaxation Response is a helpful way to turn off fight or flight response and bring the body back to pre-stress levels. Medically the Relaxation Response is described as a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the other part of our nervous system—the parasympathetic nervous system. Research has shown that regular use of the Relaxation Response can also help any health problems.
Learning the Relaxation Response is a great skill that will help us to be better equipped to deal with life’s unexpected stressors, heal ourselves, and achieve better health.
The best time to practice turning on your Relaxation Response is first thing in the morning for ten to twenty minutes. Practicing just once or twice daily can be enough to counteract the stress response and bring about deep relaxation and inner peace. You can turn on your Relaxation Response anytime.
6-Step Guide To Turn on Your Relaxation Response
To practice ‘The Relaxation Response’ yourself, try this step-by-step guided exercise from Dr. Benson’s book.
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed. (Relax your tongue and put on the roof of your mouth and thoughts will cease).
- Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word “one” silently to yourself. For example, breathe in, and then out, and say “one”, in and out, and repeat “one.” Breathe easily and naturally. (You don’t need to use the word one, you can just follow your breath, in and out of your body or listen to a guided meditation. There is no right or wrong, whatever works for you is perfect. Just ensure you keep bringing your monkey mind back to your breathing. If your mind wanders, which it will, (as we can’t control if a memory or thought pops up into our minds, but we do have a choose if we are going to fuel it), so keep bringing your awareness back to your focal point).
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes and do not stand up for a few minutes.
- Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace.
When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “one” or to your focal point whatever that may be.
With practice, ‘The Relaxation Response’ will come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily and over time it will become easier to control your mind and thoughts that pop up out of nowhere.
Please contact Clare below, if you would like to learn more about turning on your Relaxation Response.