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The Relaxation Response

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business budaThe Sabbath is upon us right now this Friday evening in the United States. What is the Sabbath? The Sabbath is a “day of rest” established by God for mankind (Read Genesis 2). Is it really necessary to observe the archaic command (Read Exodus 2:8-11) to keep the Sabbath?

Science seems to think so. Looking at my past articles, you may notice that I’ve been writing about topics (particularly in psychology) that I found interesting from my college courses.

The Stress Response
In Biology, all students learn about the fight-or-flight response, which is commonly known as the stress response. The stress response is a necessary component in every creature’s physiology. When confronted with a stimulus that threatens or challenges, the brain coordinates a sting of processes in the body. Blood rushes from non-priority organs to skeletal muscles and the brain. Eyes dilate. Heart rate increases and muscles tense ready to fight or flee from posing threat or challenge. This and many other processes occur in less than a second.

meditationThis response is very beneficial for short, acute situations. It infuses people with strength and alertness that normally doesn’t exist. In fact, the fight-or-flight saves lives everyday by enabling people to run away from enemies, fight aggressors, and assist others in life-threatening situations. But, this stress response does not only turn on in extreme situations like these. Normally, we do not deal with tangible aggressors. Our threats and challenges which we face that also rigger the stress response are bills, jobs, projects, interviews, deadlines, expectations, goals, and others. We cannot fight or run away those. We have to face these “assailants” over a long period of time. What’s more, our stress response is also prolonged.

While the stress response does amazing things for brief conflicts, it causes detrimental effects prolonged. It will quickly wear and age the body. Prolonged exposure to adrenaline will kill cells.

Unfortunately, the majority of society has this response turned on most of the time to cope with daily challenges. High school teenagers often have to balance homework, studying, friends, family, chores, and jobs into their life. College students, in addition to the list above, worry about food, tuition, rent, and car bills. After college, the pressure of a career sets in. Living in today’s culture is very stressful! And we wonder why there are so many health disorders! I don’t doubt that this is one of the causes. We’re killing ourselves. We need to give our body a rest and turn off that fight-or-flight response.

The Relaxation Response
Unfortunately, the body function that counteracts and balances the stress response is not widely known or practiced. This function is simply the relaxation response. Many are not aware of this bodily component. Fortunately, people are beginning to explore this. It is really difficult to put a finger on what the relaxation response is since there are so many ways to experience it.

Whatever method is employed there are a couple of basic things that all of them share.

There is really no time criterion. Though, I recommend at least 5 minutes. Instead of a power nap (which is usually 20 minutes), try the relaxation response. You’ll feel even more refreshed then you would feel after a nap.

Day of Rest
Seventh-day Adventists (or SDAs) actually follow the God-given command mentioned in the beginning of this article to rest. They take a break from their own personal problems and worries every Saturday. I read an interesting study that the heart beats slower on Saturday then on any other day. There is a reason for that; Saturday is a day to turn off the stress response. I read another interesting article called “The Secrets to Longevity” in the National Geographic featuring the top groups of people who live the longest in the world. This included Japanese from Okinawa, Italians from Sardinia, and Adventists mainly in Loma Linda. The article attributed the longevity to socializing, reason to live, diet, less stress, and a Sabbath. A daylong Sabbatical from normal life is definitely something worth trying.

Clearly, the relaxation response is something that most people in today’s culture should employ. I’m not suggesting that we should mediate and float. Just relax.

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Posted on Friday, January 20th, 2006

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