The Relaxation Response


Herbert Benson suggests that four basic components are necessary to elicit the relaxation response.


1.  A quiet, calm environment with as few distractions as possible. A quiet room is suitable, also a place of worship.

2.  A mental device to prevent “mind wandering.” A sound, a word, or a phrase repeated silently or aloud. Attending to the normal rhythm of breathing is also useful.

3.  A passive, “let-it-happen” attitude. Don’t worry about distracting thoughts or about how well you are doing. When distractions occur, simply return to repetition of the sound, word, or phrase.

4.  A comfortable position to prevent muscular tension. A sitting position is probably best. If you lie down, you may fall asleep.


With this introduction, dim the classroom lights and give your students the following instructions.


1.  Sit quietly in a comfortable position.

2.  Close your eyes.

3.  Begin to relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet…your legs…your stomach and chest…your neck…your face…even the top of your head.

4.  Breathe through your nose. Focus on your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word “One” silently to yourself…Breathe in…“one,” Breathe in…“one.” Breathe easily and naturally. In…“one,” etc.

5.  Permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. Focus on your breathing. If distractions occur, ignore them, and return to repeating “one.”


After several minutes, have your students open their eyes, stretch their arms and legs, and describe their ex­perience, if any are willing. Feelings will vary. Most are likely to feel a sense of calm and well-being. A small number may report ecstatic feelings. Still others may note relatively little change on a subjective level. Regard­less of the subjective feelings, Benson reports the occurrence of definite physiological changes, such as decreased oxygen consumption, accompanying the relaxation response. You might have students check their pulse rate before and after the exercise.

Benson, H. (1975). The relaxation response. New York: Morrow.