Are we relaxing enough? Do we have the skills we need to know how to relax? Do you take time each day to relax and refresh?
The Medical Significance of Relaxation
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:
“Relaxation is more than a state of mind; it physically changes the way your body functions.”
“When your body is relaxed breathing slows, blood pressure and oxygen consumption decrease, and some people report an increased sense of well-being. This is called the relaxation response. Being able to produce the relaxation response using relaxation techniques may counteract the effects of long-term stress, which may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including depression, digestive disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, and insomnia.”
What Are Different Types of Relaxation Techniques?
According to Paul Lehrer, Paul M.; David H. (FRW) Barlow, Robert L. Woolfolk, and Wesley E. Sime (2007), in the book, Principles and Practice of Stress Management, there are a wide variety of techniques for relaxation.
Certain relaxation techniques known as “formal and passive relaxation exercises” are generally performed while sitting or lying quietly, with minimal movement and involve “a degree of withdrawal.”
- Autogenic training – a relaxation technique developed Johannes Heinrich Schultz, published in 1932, using daily practice of sessions that last around 15 minutes, usually in the morning, at lunch time, and in the evening.
- Biofeedback – the use of electronic monitoring of a bodily function in order to train someone to control that function. For example, measuring increased heart rate (a stress factor) and physically monitoring that to lower heart rate and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Deep breathing – breathing with focused, long breaths, as exercise or a method of relaxation.
- Meditation – to engage in a spiritual or mental exercise or contemplation for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness or a state of deep relaxation. For example, concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra.
- Mind-Body relaxation – Mind-body meditation goes by many different names, including mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindful meditation. It can involve multiple relaxation techniques including yoga, other meditation types, and including progressive relaxation
- Zen Yoga – a form of Eastern yoga, based on the teachings of Aaron Hoopes, with the basic principle that basic breathing, movement and stretching exercises are achievable by anyone regardless of age, fitness, or health
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – a technique that involves tensing specific muscle groups and then relaxing them to create awareness of tension and relaxation, proceeding through all major muscle groups, relaxing them one at a time, and eventually leading to total muscle relaxation, made popular by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, in the 1920’s.
- Pranayama – (in Hindu yoga) the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises in order to achieve a heightened state of conscious awareness or deep state of relaxation
- Visualization or Guided Imagery – visualizing a peaceful situation or setting or engaging in positive changes or actions, in order to induce relaxation and decrease stress and anxiety, improve self-confidence, or more effectively cope
- Yoga Nidra – a sleep-like lucid state which yogis report to experience during their meditations which is among the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness.
- Self-hypnosis – the state or act of hypnotizing oneself for the purpose of reaching a heightened state of awareness, eliminating negative habits, emotional burdens, anxieties, addictive behaviors, past trauma, negative habits, or to achieve a deep state of relaxation, contentment and peace.
Research on the Effects of Relaxation on Health
In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in studying the effects of stress and anxiety and on relaxation and health. Anxiety can be the root of a wide variety of physical, mental and emotional symptoms.
There is no evidence that relaxation techniques are harmful or can worsen illness symptoms. There is evidence that relaxation techniques may be an effective part of an overall treatment plan for some health conditions. These health conditions include:
- temporomandibular disorder
- ringing in the ears
- smoking cessation
- overactive bladder
- hot flashes.
Daily disciplined practices of relaxation techniques are key to successfully achieving reduced stress and anxiety and optimum health and wellness of mind, body and spirit.
The American Institute of Stress
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Paul Lehrer, Paul M.; David H. (FRW) Barlow, Robert L. Woolfolk, and Wesley E. Sime, Principles and Practice of Stress Management, Guilford Press, Aug 16, 2007
R.H. Schneider, C.N. Alexander, F. Staggers, M. Rainforth, J.W. Salerno, A. Hartz, S. Arndt, V.A. Barnes, and S.I. Nidich. “Long-term effects of stress reduction on mortality in persons 55 years of age with systemic hypertension.” Am J Cardiol 2005. May 1;95(9):1060–64.
J. Kabat-Zinn, A.O. Massion, J. Kristeller, L.G. Peterson, K.E. Fletcher, L. Pbert, W.R. Lenderking, and S.F. Santorelli. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry 1992 Jul;149(7):936–43
R.J. Davidson, J. Kabat-Zinn, J. Schumacher, M. Rosenkranz, D. Muller, S.F. Santorelli, F. Urbanowski, A. Harrington, K. Bonus, and J.F. Sheridan. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med 2003 Jul–Aug; 65(4):564–70.
K.H. Kaplan, D.L. Goldenberg, and M. Galvin-Nadeau. The impact of a meditation-based stress reduction program on fibromyalgia. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 1993 Sep; 15(5):284–89.
P. Gelderloos, K.G. Walton, D.W. Orme-Johnson, and C.N. Alexander. Effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation program in preventing and treating substance misuse: a review. Int J Addict 1991 Mar; 26(3):293-325.
This article is written by Jean Voice Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University. Jean is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.
Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.