Decades ago Herbert Benson, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Founder of the Mind Body Medical Institute, published The Relaxation Response to help people achieve "a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress... and the opposite of the fight or flight response."
Now recent studies show that the Relaxation Response (repeating a meaningful value word or sacred sound) produces profound changes - even at a genetic level.
In fact, thousands of genes associated with stress reduction, anti-aging, reduced inflammation, and greater cellular-level health/energy get turned on.
Relaxationresponse.org lists steps to elicit this state:
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
- Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word, "one"*, silently to yourself. For example, breathe in ... out, "one",- in .. out, "one", etc. Breathe easily and naturally
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
- Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating "one." With practice, the response should come with little effort.
Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.
* or any soothing, mellifluous sound, preferably with no meaning.
or association, to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.
PLoS One. 2013 May 1;8(5):e62817. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062817. Print 2013.
Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways.
Bhasin MK1, Dusek JA, Chang BH, Joseph MG, Denninger JW, Fricchione GL, Benson H, Libermann TA.
The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.
PLoS One. 2008 Jul 2;3(7):e2576. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002576.
Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response.
Dusek JA1, Otu HH, Wohlhueter AL, Bhasin M, Zerbini LF, Joseph MG, Benson H, Libermann TA.
Mind-body practices that elicit the relaxation response (RR) have been used worldwide for millennia to prevent and treat disease. The RR is characterized by decreased oxygen consumption, increased exhaled nitric oxide, and reduced psychological distress. It is believed to be the counterpart of the stress response that exhibits a distinct pattern of physiology and transcriptional profile. We hypothesized that RR elicitation results in characteristic gene expression changes that can be used to measure physiological responses elicited by the RR in an unbiased fashion.
We assessed whole blood transcriptional profiles in 19 healthy, long-term practitioners of daily RR practice (group M), 19 healthy controls (group N(1)), and 20 N(1) individuals who completed 8 weeks of RR training (group N(2)). 2209 genes were differentially expressed in group M relative to group N(1) (p<0.05) and 1561 genes in group N(2) compared to group N(1) (p<0.05). Importantly, 433 (p<10(-10)) of 2209 and 1561 differentially expressed genes were shared among long-term (M) and short-term practitioners (N(2)). Gene ontology and gene set enrichment analyses revealed significant alterations in cellular metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, generation of reactive oxygen species and response to oxidative stress in long-term and short-term practitioners of daily RR practice that may counteract cellular damage related to chronic psychological stress. A significant number of genes and pathways were confirmed in an independent validation set containing 5 N(1) controls, 5 N(2) short-term and 6 M long-term practitioners.
This study provides the first compelling evidence that the RR elicits specific gene expression changes in short-term and long-term practitioners. Our results suggest consistent and constitutive changes in gene expression resulting from RR may relate to long term physiological effects. Our study may stimulate new investigations into applying transcriptional profiling for accurately measuring RR and stress related responses in multiple disease settings.