MEDITATION & THE RELAXATION
by Dr. Carol Renaud Gaffney
So many people I know tell me they have tried
meditation and failed. They say that everyone
else seems to know what to do. They think that
the other person has the secret to successful
What is meditation anyway? It is simply a way
of directing attention to something of your choice
for a period of time. Meditation enables relaxation,
awareness, mindfulness, peace, and the relaxation
response. The goal of meditation is not however,
to see what happens. Meditation is a way of being
mindful; of being in the moment;; of experiencing
yourself, in your world, on all levels.
Meditation can take many forms. Transcendental
Meditation is one form and Yoga is another. Tai
Chi and Chi Gong are also types of meditative
activities. Prayer and sitting quietly are meditations.
Exercise or visualizing can be meditative. There
is no one right way of meditating. There is no
Dr. Herbert Benson from Harvard University wrote
a book back in the 70’s describing an experience
he called the relaxation response. When the relaxation
response occurs, blood pressure, breathing rate,
metabolism, heart rate, and muscle tension decrease.
These responses are the opposite of what happens
when the body experiences stress and the fight/flight
response. Daily experience of the relaxation response
has been shown to have good results in counteracting
the effects of chronic stress. There is a process
that is necessary for achieving the relaxation
response. This process is a form of meditation.
A result of meditation, but not he goal of meditation,
is the relaxation response.
Dr. Benson found that there are several steps
that help elicit the relaxation response, two
that are essential. These two essential steps
are: (1) the repetition of a word, phrase or activity,
and (2) the letting go or having a passive attitude
toward intruding thoughts.
Dr. Benson’s directions are in his books
and are paraphrased here:
Choose a focus word that you can say to yourself
as you breathe out. Your focus word can reflect
your spiritual beliefs such as Chris, Shalom or
One. It can be a sound such as "oom"
or "sah". Words that are personally
meaningful such as "peace", "hope",
or "unity" can also be used.
Find a comfortable position — preferably
sitting up. Close your eyes, relax your muscles,
and breathe slowly and naturally. As you breathe
out, say your focus word to yourself. When thoughts
intrude take a passive attitude, that is, let
them go without criticizing yourself. Then return
your attention to your focus word, repeating it
to yourself as you breathe out.
Intruding thoughts and distractions discourage
many people. Mind chatter and intruding thoughts
may interfere when you try to empty your mind.
Your mind may not empty and the chatter may not
stop because of the frantic pace and stress that
you may experience in your daily life. Rather
than trying to clear your mind, expect intrusions
When the instrusions occur, let them go and then
redirect your attention to your focus word. Take
a passive attitude, and don’t worry about
how well you are doing. As thoughts do intrude,
acknowledge them, let them go, and return your
attention to your focus word.
The greatest benefits are gained if meditation
is done twice daily for 10 to 20 minutes each
time. In the beginning this is probably too much
time to ask during an already busy day. Discouragement
can set in if you can’t find the time to
do this "just right". There is no right
or wrong way. This is a personal decision. Start
with any period of time that suits you; a mini-relaxation
is better than no relaxation at all.