The four requirements for eliciting the Relaxation Response:
- A Quiet Environment
- A Mental Device
- A Passive Attitude
- A Comfortable Position
The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson outlines a simple method of meditation. The general idea is to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. The first session should be prior to breakfast and the second session prior to dinner. Yesterday before dinner, I did a 15 minute session as outlined by Dr. Herbert Benson.
How is this different from seated meditation or standing zhan zhuang? One of the main difference is the posture or comfortable position. When I do seated meditation, I sit on the edge of the chair with my feet directly in front of me and with a straight back. In the Relaxation Response (RR), I adopted a very comfortable position, basically same chair except I tilted back into the seat my chair. Little effort was needed to maintain this posture, unlike that of my other seated meditation practice.
The mental device in the Relaxation Response is to basically repeat a sound, word or phrase repeatedly. In the example given in the book, the word “one” is repeated on every exhale of the breath. In my seated meditation practice, I would normally just focus on the exhale of my breath or I would count breaths. After some time, I realized that counting breaths was not very conducive to relaxation as I would try to reach a goal, 25 breaths per session/posture. Also, just focusing on the breathing was a bit boring and my mind would often wander. With the repetition of a single phrase, I found it easier to maintain awareness without agitation.
My first session was approximately 15 minutes and was done in the early evening, around 5pm. I sat in my home office with my office chair turned to face a wall. The wall is blank and painted in a light earth tone brown. In front of the wall is a small dark brown filing cabinet. On top of the filing cabinet rests a yellow vanilla candle, a plant, my wireless router, and a burgundy colored small Zen fountain. I placed my watch on top of the cabinet to keep track of time. In the background, I could hear the sound of tricking water from an aquarium.
I closed by eyes and sat comfortably in the chair. I thought about releasing tension from my body. I started with my feet and slowly worked my way up to the top of my head. I sat quietly for about 30 seconds before I began focusing on in the inhale/exhale of my breathing. On each exhale, I repeated the phrase “one” in my head. At first, my breathing was a bit hurried, like I was trying to force the breath. I noticed this and relaxed into my breathing.
After about 5 minutes or so, I began feeling like I was sinking. This is the same sensation I used to feel when I would conjure the images of my body sinking during my power naps. During my power napping days, I thought it was a form of induced self-hypnosis, but maybe what I was doing was eliciting the Relaxation Response? The feelings of sinking were soon replaced by this feeling of expansion. As I was sitting, I felt as if my awareness expanded beyond the physical confines of my body. This was sort of like my Zhan Zhuang Expansive Effects that I had felt before.
After a while, I noticed the sound of footsteps and it was my wife coming over to see what I was doing as she had not heard any sounds coming from my home office. I told her I was meditating and that I would be down shortly for dinner. I looked at my watch and noticed that 15 minutes had passed. Time moved by pretty quickly as the 15 minutes felt more like 5.
This was my first time trying out the Relaxation Response and I plan to continue the training. After the session, I felt very relaxed and all fatigue/tiredness was gone from my body and mind. I decided to look into meditation techniques to try and counter balance the stressors of everyday life. I have been reading that some pains/aches are the effects of stress on our body. At first I thought this was just physical stress, but this also includes mental stress. Perhaps the Relaxation Response can help out with my recent knee pains.