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The Relaxation Response
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The Relaxation Response
Beyond the Relaxation Response

Here is that technique:

  1. With the specified word (such as ‘one’) in mind, settle into a comfortable upright
    position.
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Relax for a few moments
  4. As you breathe, silently say your word on the out-breath to yourself
  5. A passive attitude is the key – when you catch yourself thinking of things other than
    your word, just say to yourself ‘oh, well’, and go back to the word
  6. Continue this process for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
  7. When you are finished take a few moments to enjoy the stillness and allowing other
    thoughts to arise.

And that’s it.  Do this once or twice daily and soon you will find that any stress related
symptoms you are experiencing will likely start to fade.  

Dr. Benson is quick to point out that this is NOT a panacea or a replacement for responsible
health care.  While this is a tremendously healthy practice, no matter how much you practice
it, you will still age, still get sick, still eventually die.  But, it may not be as soon, and your
suffering due to excessive stress will be diminished, or even eliminated, and that’s very
worthwhile.

Beyond the Relaxation Response

Dr Benson’s follow up book, Beyond the Relaxation Response, while possessing the same
general thrust as the first, has more of interest in the context of our work here.  The insight
that he explores in this book is the impact that belief and faith have on our health and
physiology.  I found the story of his trip to India to study some of the
tumo meditators
especially interesting.

Tumo (meaning ‘fierce woman’) meditation, and its practitioner’s claim that it radically
increases body temperature, has fascinated Westerners for some time.  The goal of the
meditation is to focus our psychic energies so they directly burn off the impurities that keep
us wrapped in the delusion that creates our suffering.  The rise in physical temperature is
not the main point, but is considered a good indicator of the meditator’s success.  There are
all sorts of fantastic claims made for those who excel in this: the ability to dry multiple soaked
blankets in succession on a freezing night, melting a ring of snow around one’s body, etc.  
Hardly scientific feedback, but certainly intriguing.  

The phenomenon intrigued Dr. Benson and his team to that point that they traveled half way
around the globe to study and ultimately scientifically document the effect of this meditation
on several
tumo masters.  Without going through the whole story, which I recommend you
read, Dr Benson and his team found that skin temperature was significantly elevated,
though core temperature remained the same, while these men were engaged in the
meditation.  He also found, in interviews with these accomplished yogis, that the beginning of
their process engaged the same kind of practice as his relaxation response.

These findings can be important to us for several reasons.  First, the effect that meditation
has on our physical organism is more than imaginary.  Second, faith in a particular spiritual
reality can deploy tremendous energy and capacity in humans. And third, the pattern
described by Dr Benson where the yogis of Tibet first establish a meditative stillness (the
Relaxation Response) then leverage that centering to empower their faith and visualized
intent has fantastic power.  While
Tantric Christianity does not teach the tumo meditation,
the pattern of generative meditation is the same.  

It should also be noted that the goal and context of generative meditation differ substantially
from the Relaxation Response technique.  The Relaxation Response is essentially aimed at
improving our physical and psychological well-being; any spiritual benefits are welcome, but
they are tangential.  The inverse can be said for the generative meditation described in
Tantric Christianity.  The primary goal is to improve our spiritual state; physical and
psychological benefits are certainly likely and definitely appreciated, but the benefits of this
transformative practice aren’t dependent upon those kinds of temporal improvements.
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