Michael S. Isaacs, MSW, NCPsyA
San Francisco, CA.
Published in "Psychospiritual Dialogue" of the
Association of Psychotherapy and Spirituality

December, 2005

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Do you wish to break the chains of body-mind tension?

The secret is to set aside key times of your day to experience and practice one or more relaxation response techniques.

The relaxation response is a positive effect on the body and mind from certain modes of relaxation.  The term “relaxation response” was originated by Herbert Benson, MD in 1974.1

Major bodily relaxation response changes are deeper breathing, softer muscles, slower pulse rate, lower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and more efficient oxygen consumption. Mental relaxation effects are more alpha brain waves which slow our thoughts and lead to mental calmness.

The opposite of the relaxation response is the “flight or fight” syndrome evidenced by rapid chest breathing, tightened muscles, rapid pulse rate, and heightened anxiety.

Examples of relaxation techniques are deep breathing, gentle yoga stretching, meditation, affirmation, imagery, a qigong or tai chi movement, prayer, gratitude awareness, and inspiring reading or music.


My interest in relaxation response daily breaks started when I was a college student. One summer I worked for a lawyer. My job was to go from one hospital to another to review hospital medical reports of his automobile accident clients. I would scurry from one hospital to another all day. I took no breaks. By the end of the day I was exhausted. My work became boring and tiresome. Down deep I knew that I had to get off this treadmill somehow. I vowed that in the future I would learn to operate at a slower pace with moments of rest during the day.

About the same time of this realization, I picked up a book about yoga. The writer defined yoga as a way to break the chains of human pain and suffering. 2. I thought that yoga might help me get off the treadmill of running from one activity to another.

It was through the practice of yoga that I learned how to relax more, to breathe better, and to go inward to find mental peace and calm.

With the knowledge and experience from yoga, I started to take breaks during the day when feasible to reduce excessive thinking, rapid breathing, and out of control behavior. The resting time might be stretching, deep breathing, visualization, and meditation. Which technique I would use would vary, depending on what I needed at the time. Sometimes it included combinations. The breaks would last from a minute to five minutes. Sometimes they would be done sitting and sometimes standing. They would be done indoors and occasionally outdoors. Much later in my life I added t’ai chi and qigong movements to my toolbox.


Start by practicing and experiencing a modality of your choice for a time period between a minute to five minutes. With practice and repetition, benefits can occur even if done for less than a minute. When you develop the habit of daily practice and feel the positive effects, you may want to do it longer than five minutes and more than once a day.


Key times to practice are those moments when one activity or action begins and another ends. These resting spots are in accord with nature as reflected in the pause between the inhale breath and the exhale breath and in between heartbeats.

Here are auspicious transition time spaces for relaxation response techniques:

After waking in the morning and before rising from bed
Before and after eating
                        After starting the car ignition and before driving away.
Immediately before work commences
Right after work ends
Before sleeping at night
Every few hours during the day
At sunrise or sunset
In the early morning, before the members of your
                             household arise
If you are the mother of an infant child, when
                             the baby is napping
Any moments of your day or night when you can
                             set aside uninterrupted
                             quiet time without interruption on a regular
                             or fairly regular basis.3

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