Benson Relaxation Response

How to Induce the Alpha Relaxation Response

By Sava Tang Alcantara, eHow Contributor

There are four different brain waves, and when the alpha brain wave is activated, the relaxation response is prompted. Lowered blood pressure, lowered heart rate, muscle relaxation and lowered anxiety are a result. Herbert Benson, M.D., a Harvard medicine professor, popularized the theory of the relaxation response and recommended different ways to reach it. Actively practicing a method to induce the relaxation response can be a preventative measure against chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. By managing stress, you can lower your risk for illness and disease.


Understand the nuts and bolts of two systems in the body: flight and fight response, and the relaxation response. In the former, blood pressure and heart rate is elevated, and more blood is sent to the muscles of the arms and legs to prepare for immediate action. Once the danger has passed, if the heart rate and blood pressure remain elevated, the heart and immune system is taxed. The relaxation response, governed by the parasympathetic nervous system, is the opposite: lowered heart rate, blood pressure and digestion.

1. Learn a simple breathing exercise as one way to induce the relaxation response. In yoga, pranayama (breath control) detoxifies the body and helps create alpha brain waves. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Inhale through the nose for four counts, and exhale slowly for six counts. Take a recovery breath. Repeat for 10 to 12 more rounds without forcing the breath.

2. Proceed into a short, seated meditation to allow the body to release endorphins and further deepen the relaxation response. Keeping the eyes closed, keep a steady and gentle awareness of your inhalations and exhalations. Sit quietly with this focus for 10 minutes. Gradually build up to 20 to 30 minutes daily.


3. Build on this relaxation routine by adding visualization. The next time you sit in meditation, visualize a restful, peaceful setting in nature: a quiet lake, a sunny beach or a thick forest. Imagine as many of the sounds and scents you would find in this scene. Remain in this visualized field for 10 minutes, and gradually return to your actual environment for another 10 minutes.

4. Practice progressive muscle relaxation by sitting or lying down with your eyes closed. Begin with the feet, alternately curling and fanning the toes. Move through the body from the legs to the belly, arms, neck and face, squeezing the muscles with tension and releasing the tension. This progressive muscle relaxation was the work of early 20th Century Dr. Edmund Jacobson.

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