Harvard Medical School: Deep Relaxation Can Have a Profound Effect on a Wide Range of Medical Conditions

The Independent writes:

Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered is that, in long-term practitioners of relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation, far more “disease-fighting genes” were active, compared to those who practised no form of relaxation.

In particular, they found genes that protect from disorders such as pain, infertility, high blood pressure and even rheumatoid arthritis were switched on. The changes, say the researchers, were induced by what they call “the relaxation effect”, a phenomenon that could be just as powerful as any medical drug but without the side-effects.

“We found that a range of disease-fighting genes were active in the relaxation practitioners that were not active in the control group,” explains Dr Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the research…

More encouraging still, the benefits of the relaxation effect were found to increase with regular practice – the more people practised relaxation methods such as meditation or deep breathing, the greater their chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain with stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure…

“After two months, their bodies began to change – the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer, all began to switch on.”…

Because regular practice of the relaxation response can boost immunity, it is actually a good preventative measure to reduce the odds of catching diseases, including the swine flu (remember to wash your hands, get enough sleep and take vitamin D as well).

One traditional yoga method for inducing the relaxation response is by doing the flat-on-your-back pose (the “corpse pose”). See this, this, this and this.

But – as the Independent points out – there are many ways to create the relaxation response (and as I point out below, it doesn’t have to be cult-like or effeminate):

So how can you access relaxation’s healing powers? Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. “The more regularly these techniques are practised, the more deeply-rooted the benefits will be,” says Jake Toby. Have a go at one or more of the following for 15 minutes once or twice a day.

Body scan

Starting with your head and working down to your arms and feet, notice how you feel in your body. Taking in your head and neck, simply notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. See how much you can spread any sensations of softness and relaxation to areas of your body that feel tense. Once your reach your feet, work back up your body.

Breath focus

Sitting comfortably, become aware of your breath, following the sensation of inhaling from your nose down to your abdomen and out again. As you follow your breath, notice your whole body and let tension go with each exhalation. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, come back to your breath.

Mantra repetition

The relaxation response can be evoked by sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day, and mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as ‘Om’. [My comment: you can repeat a nonsense word or something like “The Three Stooges Are Funny” or “Kobe Bryant is the best!” as your mantra; it doesn’t have to be religious or feminine to create the relaxation response.]

Guided imagery

Imagine the most wonderfully relaxing light, or a soothing waterfall washing away any tension or worries from your body and mind. Make your image as vivid as possible, imagining the texture, colour and any fragrance as the image washes over or through you.

In addition to the relaxation response, I am convinced that active exercise is also very important for health.

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