The Relaxation Response

Sandi Anders, MDiv, RYT, CSC

The State of the Relaxation Response

When you are in Deep Relaxation, your body is experiencing the Relaxation Response. This is a natural state in which your body and mind are calm and relaxed. Physical and emotional healing occur when the body is in the  Relaxation Response.

The Stress Response

This is very different from what you are experiencing when you are stressed. The Stress Response (sometimes called fight-or-flight) happens when your body is mobilized to the highest degree, as if you had a sabre-toothed tiger to fight – or flee from. Chronic high levels of stress lead to bodily systems remaining in a highly activated state – which is why you feel such deep fatigue sometimes.

Contrast of Stress Response and Relaxation Response

For comparison, here’s what’s going on in your body when you are experiencing the Stress Response or the Relaxation Response.

Cardiovascular System:

Stress Response: heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol are elevated

Relaxation Response: heart rate slowed, blood pressure stable, and blood lactate levels decline

Immune System:

Stress Response: more susceptible to infection, and greater risk of autoimmune disorders

Relaxation Response: boost to immune system

Nervous System:

Stress Response: anxiety, depression, irritability, sleep disorders, and decreased libido

Relaxation Response: sense of wellbeing, improved sleep, normal libido, and slower brain wave patterns


Stress Response: digestion slowed, increased appetite

Relaxation Response: normal digestive processes

Herbert Benson, the medical researcher who first studied the Relaxation Response, defined it thus: "a physiological state characterized by a slower heart rate, metabolism, rate of breathing, lower blood pressure, and slower brain wave patterns."

The Stress Response, while helpful in emergencies, is damaging to health when it is chronic. The body is not designed to function normally with high levels of stress hormones always present. Fight or flight systems are activated, for immediate response. This leads to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion and depletion.

The Relaxation Response is the body's natural healing mechanism. Everything in the system quiets down, allowing the immune system and other healing and regenerative processes to work. It is deeply restful and restorative to the body and the mind -- and the antidote to Stress.