Today I was scouring through a couple of science journals for a bit of light reading on stress. I came across an old paper published by Dr. Herbert Benson et.al. in PLOS ONE. I remember glancing through an article in 2013 that spoke about Benson’s research. It seems relevant at any time, so here we go.
Our body and mind are under constant stress. The response to any uncomfortable stimulus is popularly known as a fight or flight response. We also possess a relaxation response (RR) which counters the stress response. Considering that most health conditions today have an underlying stress factor, it is possible to say that the RR is one of the most powerful antidotes.
For centuries, humans evoked RR by practicing yoga, meditation and chanting mantras. Modern lifestyle has not only allowed us to forget these methods to relieve ourselves of stress, but also dig ourselves deeper into the stress mine with constant worries.
According to Benson, negative thinking, worries, anxiety and other such behavior only acts as stress stimuli. In order to invoke RR, we need to calm our minds and silence the thoughts. This can be achieved in two ways:
1. Repetition of prayer (any mantra or affirmation), word (Om), thought (happy or positive) or muscular activity (yoga, gym, running, playing, swimming, etc.)
2. Mindfulness – While keeping your mind quiet may be a difficult feat, observing your thoughts while focusing on your breathing could be fairly easy. Every time you get carried away, focus on the sound of your breathing, and return to the point of observation.
In his research paper, he illustrates how fifteen minutes of listening to RR eliciting sounds can have an effect on gene expressions related to inflammatory and stress related pathways. In common words, meditation, mindfulness, exercise or prayer can help to relieve you of stress by causing physiological changes (at hormone levels). Yes! Really!
The research also showed that people who practice it for long term will enjoy health benefits in addition to relief from stress-related disorders as RR also improves insulin gene expression, boosts the immune system and regulates the genes affecting cell aging.
Stress has such a great hold on our lives that most of us have even forgotten how it feels like to really let down our hair. It also causes a lot of major illnesses like cancer, coronary heart conditions, diabetes, hypertension, migraines, obesity, fertility problems and anxiety disorders. Benson’s discovery is boon to those of us succumbing to its vicious holds.
All you need to do is take 10 minutes of your day to elicit an RR. Do it everyday. Listen to a repetitive prayer or the sound of waves. Practice mindfulness. Take sometime to play or exercise. Chant ‘Om’. Do anything that helps you calm your mind for just 10 minutes. This will have a direct impact on your gene expression with positive effects on both your physiological and psychological well-being.
Check out Benson’s technique to evoke an RR – www.relaxationresponse.org/steps