When you look at the popularity of mind-body medicine today, it's hard to understand what a groundbreaking book this was when it was first published in 1975. Based on studies at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Herbert Benson showed that relaxation techniques such as meditation have immense physical benefits, from lowered blood pressure to a reduction in heart disease. The Relaxation Response demystifies the mantra meditation used in the transcendental meditation program, explaining how anyone can reap its advantages with or without the help of a guru. If you want to understand the beginnings of today's alternative medicine movement, or if you're simply looking to learn a simple meditation technique without a lot of metaphysical trappings, this is a good place to start. --Ben Kallen
An updated health handbook outlines techniques of concentration designed to reduce physiological stress and presents scientific data indicating the effectiveness of similar systems of relaxation. Reprint.
Herbert Benson, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Behavioral Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Mind/Body Medical Institute. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
An astute physician is lamenting the times:
"But the present world is a different one. Grief, calamity, and evil cause inner bitterness ... there is disobedience and rebellion ... Evil influences strike from early morning until late at night ... they injure the mind and reduce its intelligence and they also injure the muscles and the flesh."
This chronicler lived 4,600 years ago in China, even though his observations appear contemporary. Human beings have always felt subjected to stress and often seem to look longingly backward to more peaceful times. Yet with each generation, complexity and additional stress are added to our lives. The truth is that most of the persistent problems of this planet are even further from solution than when the Chinese doctor decried them. The technology of the past forty-six centuries, and especially that of the last century which was supposed to make life easier for people, often seems to intensify the stress in our day-to-day existence.
Victims of Stress
What psychological price do we pay in attempting to adjust to the knowledge that war or its imminence is with us every day? Are we proud that our scientific know-how has increased the sophistication of weapons since that time when a shepherd named David could defeat an entire army with a rock thrown from a sling? Or do we knowingly or subconsciously despair of the current nuclear weaponry that could exterminate every human being, indeed almost all life?
Most of us find that we are helpless in solving the big problems. We have some vague hope that the leaders we elect (and the experts they in turn rely on) can find the solutions. But our concern usually involves everyday difficulties. Our frustrations come about because we generally can't even solve the less earthshaking problems, such as being on time to work in a large, congested city. Indeed, the everyday demands of living make it more and more difficult to escape the increasingly adverse psychological effects that seem built into our existence. Whatever it may be-the daily commute, or the rising cost of living, or the noise and fumes of the city, or unemployment, or random violence-we find it difficult to reach a satisfactory equilibrium, and as a result we become the victims of stress.
Our rapidly changing world has necessitated many other adjustments. For example, before the women's-liberation movement had filtered so far and deep, people were married under a set of unspoken agreements that society now questions and sometimes shatters. Today, women must reexamine their own roles and life-styles against conflicting expectations and suppositions. For the older woman, the problems of reeducation and readjustment can be overwhelming. Men must also adjust to a new role that may mean more responsibility for family and household. They are being forced to view women in a new way, one that may be threatening to their accustomed role. Concurrent with and related to the movement is the change of the family structure. Mobility separates families into small nuclear units. Women raise children outside of marriage. Divorced fathers assume custody of children. All share in the impact of societal changes.
How are these anxieties and stresses affecting us? The presence of mental stress as a part of modem living has been the subject of a number of books, most of which concentrate on the psychology of stress. We will consider stress from a somewhat different perspective, for our concern is not only the psychology but also the physiology of stress. We will explore what happens to you internally under stressful situations and how stress physically undermines your health. This will be done by examining the relation between your emotional reactions and what they may cost you in hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases. We will then point out what you can do about the effects of stress. We will show how, by your personal adoption of a simple psychological technique, you can improve your physical and mental well-being.The Hidden Epidemic
We are in the midst of an epidemic, one that is all too prevalent in the United States and other industrial nations. The name of this epidemic is hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure. Hypertension predisposes one to the diseases of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart attacks, and strokes. These diseases of the heart and brain account for more than 50 percent of the deaths each year in the United States. Therefore, it is not surprising that various degrees of hypertension are present in 15 to 33 percent of the adult population. Although this epidemic is not infectious in nature, it may be even more insidious, simply because its manifestations do not affect large numbers at the same time and because we are not generally aware that the disease is slowly developing within us. Throughout its course there are few, if any, symptoms. Yet each day we see it strike without warning, cutting short by decades the lives of our friends and loved ones. According to carefully compiled Government vital statistics, the diseases resulting from this epidemic account for an average of two deaths every minute in the United States alone. Put another way, that is nearly one million out of two million deaths a year. Translate this statistic into your own personal experience-the loss of a friend who leaves young children, the premature death of a father about to enjoy his retirement years. You are a fortunate Individual if you have not personally experienced the ravages of this epidemic.
High blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes have markedly increased, not only afflicting a growing percentage of the population but steadily finding their way into younger age groups. The late Dr. Samuel A. Levine, an eminent American cardiologist, pointed out in 1963 that in families he had treated for many years, sons suffered...
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
When Dr. Herbert Benson introduced this simple, effective, mind/body approach to relieving stress twenty-five years ag, his book became an instant national bestseller. Since that time, millions of people have learned the secret--without high-priced lectures or prescription medicines. The Relaxation Response has become the classic reference recommended by most health care professionals and authorities to treat the harmful effects of stress.
Discovered by Dr. Benson and his colleagues in the laboratories of Harvard Medical School and its teaching hospitals, this revitalizing, therapeutic approach is now routinely recommended to treat patients suffering from heart conditions, high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, and many other physical ailments. It requires only minutes to learn, and just ten to twenty minutes of practice twice a day.