Dr. Herbert Benson, MD and his colleges at Harvard University were among the first modern researchers to conduct scientific studies on relaxation and meditation. His studies of several meditation techniques revealed several key factors that induce the relaxation response which is the physiological and bio-chemical responses in the body to a state of peace, calm and relaxation.
The meditation techniques he studied came from the Indian sub continent and had philosophical, metaphysical and religious overtones. Eliminating these overtones of religion, he devised a simple meditation exercise that reliably induced the relaxation response if individuals practiced the technique or a similar one on a regular daily basis for 15 to 20 minutes twice each day. Thus one could reverse the adverse effects of the fight or flight stress syndrome.
The four key factors that Dr. Benson found for inducing the relaxation response during a meditation period were:
1. A quiet environment free from distractions and interruptions.
2. A comfortable sitting posture, sitting on either a chair or on the floor.
3. A passive mental attitude during the meditation session. A passive mental attitude means that you do not chase any thoughts that arise in the mind. You simply observe them and let them go.
4. A meditation object to focus your attention on during the exercise period.
The Benson meditation exercise used a word as the focus of meditative attention. You can choose any word that elicits within you a feeling of calm, peace and tranquillity. The words, ‘peace’, ‘love,’ ‘joy’ are some common examples. You can also use a word or syllable that has no particular meaning but that has a pleasurable or peaceful sound to you. It might be a sound like, ‘yooo’ or ‘ahhhh’ or ‘mahhh’ or ‘haaaah’ or ‘ommm.’ The word or syllable that you choose becomes the object of your meditation.
It is best to choose a quiet environment for the fifteen to twenty-minute meditation session. Either sub-vocally or out loud, continually repeat the word or syllable you’ve chosen as your focus of attention. Keeping your attention on the repeating word or syllable helps shift your thinking mind from logical, externally based thought to an introverted subjective feeling state.
When you notice your mind wandering away from the object of meditation, gently bring your attention back to the object. Keep a passive mental attitude and do not berate yourself if you find yourself or your mind thinking of other things. Simply bring your attention back to the object or sound. Your continued practise of this meditation technique will calm the mind and will elicit the relaxation response in your body.