The Benson Technique: Your Automatic Relaxation Trigger

Published: 27th September 2006
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Feeling Stressed? Learn to Relax


There are as many ways to relax as there are to feel frazzled, tense and overwrought. However, it does seem easier for many of us to get into a state of tension than the opposite.  Here is a guaranteed technique you can use to counter stress.




Automatic de-Stressing with

the Benson Technique



Another general concern of mine: we do not teach our children at school, particularly in High School, the easy and best ways to calm down, to relax. We do teach them to compete. We teach them to succeed and by automatic default, we teach them to fail.  But not how to deal with the disappointments that come with failing.  We certainly do not teach them how to cope with the stresses of study - especially in their final year.



The Benson technique is something you can teach people of any age, and one that you can start using straight away.



It is a technique I first came across when I was President of the Lupus Australia Foundation Inc. At one of the seminars I organised for the members, a wonderful Psychologist, Dr Helen Lindner talked about ways to deal with pain that goes on and on and on and on - called chronic pain.  It is as applicable to countering stress as it is to lessening pain.



As you may have guessed, it was developed by a psychologist called Herbert Benson, and it incorporates distraction techniques.

This is how you do it:




There are three components.



Firstly, focus on your breathing. Breathedeeply and slowly



Secondly, hear yourself saying silently in your headr e l a x, take a breath



Thirdly, you visualise something that keeps rhythm with your breathing. The image Helen used is a curtain in front of a window. Many of her clients visualise the tide coming in, lapping on the shore, and then going out.



We can use water as an example. Make yourself comfortable, then close your eyes. Feel your breath going in and out.



Focus just on that breath.



I want you to then hear a quiet wind in your head. Relax. Be aware of your breath and feel the quiet wind until you start to relax.



Say in your mind: r e l a x, Breathe in.




Relax, breathe out.



Now visualise yourself as vividly as you can on a beach.



It is the most beautiful day; just perfect.


This is your visualisation so it can be hot, warm or even cold; whatever you want.



The perfect day.



Visualise the water. No crashing waves, just those beautiful waves that break on the sand like a big shawl of lace, spreading outwards, covering the sand.


The waves comes in, as your breath comes in. R e

l a x. breathe in.



The wave goes out as your breath goes out slowly with it.



Wave comes in… r e l a x…


Wave goes out.


Take two more breaths, two more waves…



Herbert Benson wants you to concentrate on three sensations.



First, feeling your breath is known as the kinaesthetic or feeling part of ourselves.


The word r e l a x is an auditory signal, and


The visualisation calls on the visual powers of our mind.



If we keep our mind busy on our feelings, and on hearing and seeing, then your brain is kept busy on those three levels. That gives it time away from being aware of other sensations - like pain, or the

tension you feel when you are beginning to be anxious.


Your mind is distracted from negative tendencies related to your anxiety and panic. That includes some of the things we have mentioned already, such as visualising, or imagining the very worst case scenario happening. It also distracts you - your mind - from that incessant negative self talk: this is terrible, I can't cope with this.



The Benson technique is a very specific strategy to move those three senses into an area where we have more control. We use our feelings, our auditory sense and our ability to visualise, to reduce the

feelings of anxiety, panic and stress.



Your Automatic Relaxation Trigger


It has been found that if you practise this technique for just one hundred minutes, it becomes paired with, or locked into, the back part of our brain in a section called themedulla. That hundred minutes is only ten minutes practice each day for ten days.

Themedulla controls all the things we don not have to think about, that we do automatically. Like breathing itself, or riding a bicycle once we have learned how.




If you practise the Benson technique for only one hundred minutes on average (fewer for some and maybe 120 minutes for others), the automatic message to relax gets locked in the medulla. Then, all you need are some cues and it will kick in. For instance, the cue to relax and distract yourself from stress might be the very act of saying r e l a x in your mind when you breathe in, then out.



According to Dr Lindner, relaxation is good for reducing a lot of the stress which we now know brings back the pain associated with lupus. (From the transcript of a talk given in Melbourne, Australia by Dr Helen Lindner in March 2004) 



Another way to relax - my

gift to you 

I use a similar but slightly different way to relax in my Relax on Cue MP3. You can download that by cutting this link and pasting it into your Internet browser ->>

http://www.calmingwords.com/audio/Relax_on_cue.mp3 Then make a CD of it - you'll need it in that format to listen to it each evening as you drift off to sleep. As always, to your continued happiness and success



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