Relaxation techniques are very good to learn whether you are currently "stressed out"
or not. Daily practice of meditative techniques such as the Relaxation Response
has been shown to reduce hypertension, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.
Such practices also help one to clear the mind and get things sorted out, be it your
"things to do" list, new teaching idea s, or goals for the future. Also, in times
of situational stress (before a speech, during an exam, after a car accident, etc.),
one can practice breathing exercises or muscle relaxation techniques to calm down to a point
where you feel in control. Be low I've laid out some information on meditative
and muscle relaxation techniques
that I recently found on the internet while surfing for "stress management" material.
The webpage "Mind Tools"
(http://www.psych-web.com/mtsite/smmedit.html) has this to say about meditation:
"The idea of meditation is to focus your thoughts on one relaxing thing for a sustained
period of time. This rests your mind by diverting it from thin king about the problems
that have caused stress. It gives your body time to relax and recuperate and clear away toxins that may have built up through stress and mental or physical activity."
Herbert Benson, MD. of Harvard Medical School was o ne of the first to research the
therapeutic value of meditation. He found that meditation can elicit what he called
the "Relaxation Response," which is the physiological antithesis of stress and hypertension. Since previous research had shown that hypertension leads to heart disease
and stroke, Benson saw his meditative method as a simple way to reduce stress and
health risks. In his book, The Relaxation Response
(1975), Benson describes his method to achieve the Relaxation Response. A. Christopher
Hammon, on the "Center for Sleep and Stress on the Web"'s "Stress Oasis
(http://www.quantadynamics.com/css/stress/tips.htm) summarizes Benson's method:
"1. Sit in a comfortable position and clo se your eyes.
2. Relax your muscles. Start with your feet and work progressively toward your face.
I do this by stretching and tensing the muscles then visualizing the tensions of
the day draining out of them as they relax.
3. Breathe deeply thr ough your nose. Become aware of your breathing. Concentrate
on breathing with your diaphragm, basically breathe with your stomach instead of
your chest so you are completely filling your lungs. As you are breathing out say
one word, such as "One." For example, breathe in, breathe out, say "One."
4. Continue this for 10-20 minutes, breathing easily and naturally. When you finish
sit quietly for several minutes, at first continuing to keep your eyes closed and
then opening them for the last little bit.
5. Don't worry about whether you are doing it right or achieving deep levels of relaxation.
Maintain a passive attitude. Just be and let relaxation occur at its own pace. Don't
worry about anything during this time. This is time you are invest ing in yourself. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling on them and
focusing on your breathing and saying the one word. It takes practice, but with practice
it should come with little effort.
Hammon continues wit h four key elements of the Relaxation Response:
"1. A Quiet Environment. A place without excessive distractions contributes to this
2. A Mental Device. A single word or a phrase that can be used to shift the mind from
logical, e xternally oriented thought. A word or phrase that can be used to break
the train of distracting thoughts and the mind's tendency to wander.
3. A Passive Attitude. A "let it happen" no worry attitude is important for eliciting
the Relaxation Response.
4. A Comfortable Posture. What is needed is a position in which the muscles can relax,
but at the same time a position in which you do not normally fall asleep.
Subject in Dr. Benson's studies gave varied accounts of their feelings after practicing
the meditation response, but the majority reported a sense of calm and felt very
relaxed. Regardless of subjective reports, Benson found physiological changes such
as reduced oxygen consumption, decline in blood pressure and increased alpha-wave activity,
which are all sure signs of relaxation.
On the website of the cosmetic firm Shiseido, (shiseido.co.jp/e/e9706suc/html/suc_top0.htm),
the relaxation response is nutshelled nicely:
"First, make yourself comfortable in a quiet place. Then, concentrate on a monotone
or another quiet, meaningless sound. Without focusing on any specific thought, let
your mind wander at will. Especially don't worry about whether or not you're mediating
properly-just let yourself go. As a result, you will feel a calmness spreading throughout
your mind and body."
Also on the Shiseido website there is a good deal of information about other relaxation
techniques, such as aromatherapy and the Jacobsen Method. The latter techniqu e
is a method of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) developed by Edmund Jacobsen in
the 1930s. The method is to flex and relax all the muscle groups of the body in a specific
order, resulting in full-bodied relaxation. At Gifu-ken's 1997 JET Orienta tion Seminar,
a guest speaker used an audio tape to help us practice progressive muscle relaxation. The result, not surprisingly, was that many JETs slept through the rest of
her workshop. On the IBM supported "Behavioral Institute of Bo ston"
webpage (http://www.bbinst.org/selfreg.html), I found an audio tape script for PMR,
very similar to the one we listened to in the workshop. Audio prompting during PMR
includes a soothing voice, with imagery and other little "tric ks" to help the listener
Here is how Shiseido describes the bare essentials of PMR:
"First, sit down in a quiet place. Then, beginning with your right fist and your left
fists, gradually contract and then relax each individual muscle group within your
body. In the order presented, contract and release the following: the lower half
of each arm, and then the upper arms, the forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks and mouth, neck,
chest, back, abdomen, thighs, calves, and ankles. Hold each mu scle-group contraction
for around 10 seconds. The point is to focus on relaxing your muscles. By doing
so, you will feel a calmness gradually spread throughout your entire body. Since you have
induced relaxation through the body itself, the results w ill be felt quickly and
During PMR, in addition to muscle tensing and relaxing, it helps to maintain positive
imagery (for example, thinking of a beach on a warm, summer day) or focus on your
breath, a mantra, or number, as in medita tive techniques.
For more detailed information, check out the BIB
site or Bernd Harmsen's
spartan yet complete practice schedule for PMR on his homepage (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/ha r/les1.htm).
If anyone does not have access to the internet and would like more information on
meditation, the Relaxation Response, or progressive muscle relaxation, contact Scott
McDonald, PSG volunteer in Gifu-ken!
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