We used a variety of techniques to facilitate eliciting the Relaxation Response in our Program, acknowledging that what works for one person may not work for someone else. Regular time should be set aside for this. We Made a Do Not Disturb Sign for people to use, to let their family members know not to interrupt at this time. Even when there is not time for a full meditation, however, there may be time for a “mini,” which can often decrease the stress of waiting in line or sitting in traffic.
Most cultures have developed methods for eliciting the Relaxation Response, often as part of religious practice. Herbert Benson states the elements needed are:
o Focusing of attention through repetition of words or physical activity
o Passive disregard of everyday thoughts when they occur, and return to the repetition
That passive disregard is key. The mind will do what it does, e.g. replay an earlier conversation, notice sounds in the room, or even start reviewing the shopping list while one is meditating. The key is to notice this, accept it, and return to the meditation. Self-criticism or punishment for this normal process is counterproductive. Read the Puppy description in the Mindfulness Handout for reinforcement on this point.
Techniques which can be used to elicit the Relaxation Response include:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation – we actually found this to be inappropriate for our chronic pain patients. Many complained of exacerbation of pain.
Repetitive Exercise – We find swimming and walking particularly effective
Repetitive Prayer – think the Rosary, or chanting in Buddhism
Some of us find mindfulness very challenging but do fine with a mantra, and some just the opposite; some find imagery to be the only thing that really works for them while others find guided imagery useless. I (Connie) think maybe women do better with imagery and men with physical techniques and mindfulness, but let me know your experiences.