The experience of relaxation is vital to counteract the damaging effects of chronic stress on the body. Through the use of relaxation techniques, one can begin to reverse this cumulative, hurtful process, and employ the body's astonishing possibility for self-healing.

Herbert Benson, M.D., Harvard Professor and stress reduction authority, first coined the phrase "Relaxation Response" in the early 1970s to describe the physiological and mental changes that occur when one consciously relaxes. In The Wellness Book he indicates that the relaxation response is "a physiological state characterized by a slower heart rate, metabolism, rate of breathing, lower blood pressure, and slower brain wave patterns."

Here are some of the valuable changes that occur when your body is in the Relaxation Response:

1. Heartbeat and respiration are slowed.
2. Oxygen consumption is noticeably reduced.
3. The expiration of carbon dioxide drops.
4. Blood pressure stabilizes.
5. Blood lactate levels (which many researchers believe are linked to panic attacks) decline steeply.

There are numerous proven techniques which promote this state of profound rest and release. This article concentrates on rhythmic, deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

This most important stress reduction tool is "right under your nose" and as near as your breath! When you drop into slow, deep breathing, the inhalation fills your lungs and causes your lower belly to expand as the diaphragm falls downward into the softness of your relaxed belly.

Try it right now:

Relax your body and free yourself of any noticeable tension. Allow your tongue and jaws to relax. Relax your shoulders away from your neck. Let your abdomen relax and soften, freeing yourself of all tension from that part of your body.

Become mindful of your breathing just as it is. Inhale and take in a deep, full breath. Allow the breath to flow all the way down into the lower belly.

It is helpful to imagine that there is a small balloon in the belly. As you breathe in, allow that balloon to quietly inflate. As you exhale, feel how the balloon easily collapses.

Take in several of these slow, soothing, deep breaths.

Then start to notice that there is a slight pause that spontaneously takes place at the end of each out-breath. Give yourself permission to wait here without rushing to take the next in-breath. Allow the next inhalation to surface as your body is ready to receive it.

Take pleasure in the calming tranquility of the pause. Float peacefully in the quiet of this pause between exhalation and inhalation, allowing the breath to come about of its own accord. Let the breath breathe you!

If you are just learning diaphragmatic breathing, it can be useful to begin by lying on your back with your knees bent. In this posture, it is easier to feel "soft-belly", diaphragmatic breathing. Be mindful of the feeling of the belly rising with the inhalation and falling with the exhalation. Let the breath create that movement. You can also rest your hands on your abdomen and let yourself breathe into their warmth, feeling how the weight of the hands goes up with inhalation and drops with out- breath. A heavy book resting on the abdomen will accomplish the same thing.

Another wonderful means to find deep belly breath is to lie face down on your belly. In this position, the only way you can breathe is diaphragmatically!

Finally, it can sometimes be helpful to sigh out loud with the exhale. Sounding is an excellent way to let go of stress and tension.

Deep, diaphragmatic, soft-belly breathing has a profound effect on the body. Just three minutes of soft-belly breathing can move your body out of Stress Response mode into the Relaxation Response! And if you can remain in that Relaxation Response for just 20 minutes each day, you will go a long way toward counteracting the damaging effects of chronic stress on your body.

Author's Bio: 

Sandi Anders, M.Div., R.Y.T. offers her relaxation CD Alchemy of Peace and Love at, and recommends Stress Management and Relaxation resources at
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