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Relieve stress with the relaxation response

By Jackie Castro-Cooper

I love the month of January because we can look forward to 12 months of exploring new things! One of those things is a technique I teach my clients to decrease stress called “the relaxation response.”

Although meditation has been around for thousands of years, Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson pioneered the relaxation response, which is a form of meditation, in the United States in the 1970s. This technique is accepted by physicians and therapists worldwide as a way of relieving symptoms of conditions ranging from cancer to aids — and I love it!

According to Dr. Benson, “The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing and muscle tension).” He adds that “deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body. It brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind.” Benson is the founder of the Mind Body Medicine Institute.

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Dawson Church, mentions Dr. Benson in his book, “The Genie in your Genes”: “Studies showed that the relaxation response was able to help with many different ailments, from high blood pressure and infertility to rheumatoid arthritis and pain. ‘How could a single, simple, stress reduction technique affect so many different conditions?’ researchers wondered. The answer had to wait until the invention of DNA microarrays at the end of the 20th century, which made possible the study of the relaxation response as an epigenetic intervention.”

So now you know a little secret to healing yourself. Enjoy this wondrous new year with your relaxation response!


For 20 minutes, sit down in a quiet room and begin breathing slowly by inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Dr. Benson recommends on the exhale to repeat a phrase such as a word, prayer or phrase: i.e. calm, peace, gentle or even just the word “one.” If thoughts come up, don’t worry. Just say, “oh, well,” and return to breathing and repeating the word, prayer or phrase.

As you breathe slowly and repeat the word/prayer/phrase, start to focus on relaxing a different part of the body with each breath: Feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips (I add pelvic floor and buttocks), belly, back, chest, shoulders, arms and hands, throat and neck, face and head.

Castro-Cooper holds a master’s in physical therapy and specializes in John F. Barnes’s myofascial release. Her practice, Gulf Coast Myofascial Release, has been located in Ocean Springs for 10 years. Contact her at (228) 424-2940 or

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