How can I elicit the relaxation response (RR) in my body?

Dr. Christopher Maloney, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Dr. Herbert Benson has a straightforward technique that I include in all my patient "welcome" folders:

Dr. Benson describes the practice of the" Relaxation Response" technique as follows:

  • Sit quietly in a comfortable position. 
  • Close your eyes. 
  • Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed. 
  • Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word, "ONE," silently to yourself. For example breathe IN... OUT, "ONE; IN...OUT, "ONE", etc. Breathe easily and naturally. 
  • Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes. 
  • Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling on them and return to repeating "ONE". With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.

Resource: Benson, Herbert, The Relaxation Response, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1977, p.114]

Anxiety, depression, fatigue, and infertility: statistically significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and fatigue as well as increases in vigor. In addition, 34% of these women became pregnant within 6 months of completing the program. Fertil Steril 1990 Feb;53(2):246-9

You can learn to evoke the relaxation response (RR) using many techniques. These include meditation, prayer, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, and a variety of other techniques, such as mindfulness, imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. All of these techniques have two basic components. First is focusing attention through repetition of a word, prayer, phrase, or physical activity; second is passively disregarding everyday thoughts when they occur and returning to the repetition. The common denominator in all of these methods is that they attempt to break the train of everyday thought and disengage the stress response.

If the RR is evoked regularly, the effects tend to carry over. The same stressors no longer have the same impact on us. Some women refer to the RR as "rolling with the punches." A regular RR practice of 20 minutes a day is required to achieve the maximum benefits.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause


Continue Learning about Stress

Stop Morning Stress With These Healthy Habits
Stop Morning Stress With These Healthy Habits
Do you dread mornings? If the wakeup routine at your house resembles Black Friday, then it’s time to get a handle on it. The best news is that you can...
Read More
How can the Slow Medicine Wheel of Health help me manage stress?
Michael B. Finkelstein, MDMichael B. Finkelstein, MD
To help manage stress, the Slow Medicine Wheel of Health suggests seven areas that need to be touche...
More Answers
5 Ways Your Job May Be Hurting Your Health
5 Ways Your Job May Be Hurting Your Health5 Ways Your Job May Be Hurting Your Health5 Ways Your Job May Be Hurting Your Health5 Ways Your Job May Be Hurting Your Health
Find out how working too much can make you sick – and what you can do.
Start Slideshow
How Can Stress Affect My Hormones?
How Can Stress Affect My Hormones?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.