From Soldier of Africa blog: "The Relaxation Response'' book by Dr Herbert Benson
This post is dedicated to all military related personnel around the world, especially peacekeepers, and humanitarian workers in Sudan, Chad, CAR, Uganda and DR Congo.
How to Relax - Dr Herbert Benson- - -
We live in a world where all people are under stress and we are constantly looking for quick fixes to these stress-related problems. Soldiers especially are under incredible amounts of stress. I stumbled upon this article from Turning Point Now and thought it important enough to post here.
Photo: Dr Herbert Benson (Credit: Soldier of Africa blog 3 March 2009)
By Linda Matchan
Globe Staff - February 5, 2009
Nearly 35 years ago, Herbert Benson wrote the book on how to battle stress. Today, he says, it's as relevant as ever. Benson, author of the ''The Relaxation Response,'' has made stress - and the relieving of it - his life's work.
By the time they're 73, most doctors are thinking about hanging up their stethoscopes, if they haven't already. Not Dr. Herbert Benson, though, whose medical specialty - stress - is a growth industry these days.
Benson is the guru of relaxation and busier than ever. Nearly 35 years ago the Harvard cardiologist became a kind of medical rock star with his best-selling book "The Relaxation Response." It outlined a pioneering and irresistibly simple approach to relieving stress and a host of medical conditions related to it. Breathe deeply, repeat a word or phrase, and keep it up for 10-20 minutes, twice a day.
The book leaped to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and earned Benson international acclaim as one of the first Western physicians to bring spirituality and healing into medicine. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters. He met a dozen times with the Dalai Lama. He testified before Congress about the relationship between body and mind.
His book came out during a tumultuous time in this country, though the kind of anxiety he was addressing in 1975 seems quaintly low-voltage today. Women faced "conflicting expectations and suppositions." Men were adjusting to a new role "that may mean more responsibility for family and household."
But that was long before the pace of life accelerated thanks to e-mail, BlackBerries, and multi-tasking. Long before banks tanked, retirement funds evaporated, and thousands lost jobs every day.
You wanna talk stress? Benson wants to talk stress. It's his work, his passion, his "hobby," he said. The way he sees it, stresses are piling up around all of us. People feel helpless, and it's hurting their health. Adults are getting high blood pressure. Kids are turning to drugs and alcohol. But Benson has an answer. And it's easy! And it doesn't cost anything! And it's been around for millennia!
You can almost feel his sense of urgency. "These are trying times," Benson tells a dozen doctors, nurses, and other health care workers. He's leading a lunchtime session for Massachusetts General Hospital employees to teach them the relaxation response. "People do not have faith it will get better."
He reassures them that it will get better if they do his focusing techniques once or twice a day. One caveat, though: It won't eliminate stress, only "change our reaction to stress," Benson said.
He is director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, which offers courses, services, and therapy, and conducts research. It's a busy time: The institute has been inundated with calls from schools across the country looking for ways to help students reduce anxiety in their lives. It has heard from the Department of Defense, which is interested in helping wounded soldiers deal with stress. Twice a week, Benson and his colleagues conduct anti-stress workshops at MGH. Lately, the hospital has been offering information sessions about retirement planning during times of financial turmoil. The sessions include the relaxation response.
"It is nothing new," Benson tells the hospital staff, reassuringly. "People usually bring it out by repeating a word, a sound, or a prayer. It can be secular or religious. Your choice. It could be 'love,' 'peace,' 'calm.' If you're Catholic, you have it made. You can say 'Ave Maria,' or 'Hail Mary, full of grace.' "
Benson believes the relaxation response is more relevant than ever today. He elicits it himself every morning (not disclosing his word), and it seems to work pretty well, judging by how calmly he responds when he accidentally spills a glass of water on his desk, soaking some papers and trickling down on his pants. "It doesn't matter!" he said cheerfully, mopping up the mess. "It will dry!"
He is a compact, dapper man in a blazer and tie emblazoned with little elephants; he has the affable, avuncular manner of a television doctor. His professional path has been anything but traditional though, taking him down a road where, three decades ago, self-respecting physicians dared not go, namely the interface of medicine and the mind.
His clinical vocabulary is sprinkled with terms that would still cause the blood pressure of some doctors to spike, like "self-healing" and "the power of belief." He likens his approach to medicine to a "three-legged stool," balanced equally by traditional interventions like medication and surgery, and by "self-care" approaches like the relaxation response.
Benson was first drawn to this field in the late 1960s when he was a cardiologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. He was curious about why so many people's blood pressure was higher in their doctors' offices than it was when they measured it themselves at home. He speculated it was because they were nervous, and that there might be a relationship between stress and high blood pressure.
His theory might not seem radical now, but his colleagues thought he was "bizarre," said Benson, who still sounds a bit miffed. "It was a different world then, a time when the phrase 'it's all in your head' was a pejorative in medicine."
He decided to do a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School's physiology department to investigate the link between stress and high blood pressure. His theory took a big leap forward when he did experiments with practitioners of transcendental meditation. "The facts were incontrovertible," Benson wrote in his book. "With meditation alone, the T.M. practitioners brought about striking physiologic changes - a drop in heart rate, metabolic rate, and breathing rate - that I would subsequently label 'the Relaxation Response.' "
He defines this as "an inducible, physiologic state of quietude," a way to become focused, keep the mind from racing, and decrease the heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, and ultimately relieve a host of stress-related conditions from migraines to asthma to depression.
It was a hard sell among medical academics, and so for years Benson had two parallel careers - cardiology and teaching "to maintain respectability," and mind-body research to satisfy his passion. "They thought he was nuts," said Ann Webster, a health psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute, who has worked with Benson for 22 years. "I'd give talks about [the mind/body effect] and I had people in the audience - mostly medical people - almost shout at me. Or they would get up and walk out."
Not anymore. "I don't think you could say that the entire house of medicine is completely on board with [the mind/body connection]," says Dr. Bruce Auerbach, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. "But I think people generally accept there is a relationship."
Benson, however, is always looking for converts to his approach, of "slowly, inexorably spreading it through the hospital." He interrupted an interview in his office to make his case. "Let me show you how I teach the experiential component," he said, without preamble.
Declining doesn't seem to be an option. He tells me to pick a word, short phrase, or prayer to repeat silently. "Close your eyes," Benson continues, in the same practiced way he addresses the hospital personnel. "Relax your feet, your calves, your thighs. Shrug your shoulders, roll your head around and sit at ease, without movement, and breathe slowly."
On each "out" breath, I am to silently repeat my focus word. "You will find other thoughts coming to mind," he predicted correctly. He's right. Like how I managed to lose control of this interview. "They are normal, they are natural, and should be expected. Just say, 'Oh well,' and return to your repetition." I started eliciting the response, but thoughts intruded again. I don't have time for this, I was thinking. Oh well.
I tried again, repeating my focus word. What's he doing while I'm doing all this breathing? Oh well. I got my answer 10 minutes later when the exercise was over: Benson had been counting my breaths. He reported they were down from 14 per minute when I began the exercise to 10 per minute at the end.
"This should be done once or twice daily for 10 to 20 minutes," Benson prescribed. "I predict you'll have more clarity of mind, be calmer, and feel more in control."
My mind was clearer, and so I posed the question that I'd been thinking about since I read his book. Who has time to close their eyes for 20 minutes, once or twice a day?
"Those minutes will pay off in efficiency," Benson said, deftly sidestepping the question. "Isn't that worth 10 to 20 minutes?
Thanks to Werner, I have just ordered via Amazon (and qualified for free delivery) these two books by Dr Benson:
Note, as a South African soldier, Werner has served in Darfur and DR Congo and was the first peacekeeper to blog from the war zone in Darfur.
This photo is of Werner working in his "office" in Darfur, which was a tent with air conditioning. (Werner K, Darfur Nov 2006)
Photo: South African Air Assault Badge developed by Werner and Capt Gibson (Ret) of 1 Parachute Battalion, 44 Parachute Regiment is on the verge of being approved. Soon they will wear it with pride on their uniforms after waiting more than two years. In the comments at his post featuring the bade, Werner explains: "The Oryx Helicopter depicts the use of aircraft and the Laurel Wreath depicts Excellence. There is no wing since we are not air-droppable. Our mission is either heli-assault or air-landed assault. In Heli-Assault we use the Oryx, Rooivalk and Agusta A 109 and in Air Landed we use the Airbus A400M Loadmaster, C 130 and can use other smaller cargo planes for smaller missions."
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Here is a copy of a memorable 'round robin' email that I received from Werner a few years ago (while, I think, he was in Darfur)
----- The Daffodil Principle
Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over."
I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead . "I will come next Tuesday", I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.
Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.
"Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!"
My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother."
"Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her.
"But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this."
"Carolyn," I said sternly, "Please turn around."
"It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."
After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, " Daffodil Garden ." We got out of the car, each took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.
It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.
"Who did this?" I asked Carolyn. "Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.
On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking", was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."
For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.
That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time--often just one baby-step at time--and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world .
"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. "Start tomorrow," she said.
She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?"
Use the Daffodil Principle. Stop waiting.....
Until your car or home is paid off
Until you get a new car or home
Until your kids leave the house
Until you go back to school
Until you finish school
Until you clean the house
Until you organize the garage
Until you clean off your desk
Until you lose 10 lbs
Until you gain 10 lbs
Until you get married
Until you get a divorce
Until you have kids
Until the kids go to school
Until you retire
Until you die...
There is no better time than right now to be happy.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
So work like you don't need money.
Love like you've never been hurt, and,
Dance like no one's watching.
Wishing you a beautiful, daffodil day!
Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin.