Details about the Protocols
This page provides more complete details for each fo the steps of the standard Benson-Henry Protocol.
Step 1 - Choose your Focus Entity
Purpose of the Focus Entity
The first step is to choose what this site refers to as a Focus Entity, or what Dr. Benson refers to as a Mental Device. This provides a focus to which your attention can return when you notice that your attention is on other thoughts. It is important to have something where you can easily and effortlessly return the focus of your attention so that your mind can shift from your logical, externally oriented thought to a more relaxed, internally oriented state of mind.
If You Have a Tradition for the Relaxation Response
As explained in more detail in the Traditions section, the choice of the Focus Entity has often been prescribed in the past by your spiritual or religious tradition. If a given tradition is applicable to you, then it usually makes the most sense to use entities from your tradition.
If You Do Not Have a Tradition for the Relaxation Response
If you are not aware of any part of your tradition for eliciting the Relaxation Response or do not adhere to any tradition, then you are free to choose an entity of your liking. An important criteria, however, is that your focus entity should not create a mental or emotional conflict or any sense of unease or agitation. Note that Dr. Benson suggests that if you choose a word or phrase it should be in your original language, but other traditions sometimes do not have the same advice.
According to Dr. Benson's research to date, there is not a single method that is unique in eliciting the Relaxation Response . The current scientific understanding is that the Relaxation Response is based primarily on the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (also referred to as the Rest and Digest system and described on the Physiology page). The other part of our autonomous nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system, whose activation elicits what is often referred to as the Fight or Flight response. Our body balances the activation of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems to manage the responses of our organs and tissues to internal and external stimuli.
Possible Focus Entity Values
Some types and examples of the Focus Entity that have been successfully used to elicit the Relaxation Response are as follows.
- General Word or Phrase - [English]: "One", "Love", "Peace"
- Word or Phrase with Religious Connotations - [Hebrew/English]: "Shalom", [Sanskrit/English]: "Om", "Auṃ maṇi padme hūṃ" [Arabic/English]: In sha Allah
Short Prayer - "Hail Mary, Full of Grace", "Ave Maria", "Sh'ma Yisrael"
Note that in some religious systems it is believed to be inappropriate to repeat prayers of many words (e.g., Protestant Christians utilizing the passage from Matthew 6:7-8). In those cases, it would be more appropriate to use one of the other types of Focus Entities.
- Image - There appears to be less guidance for the use of images for eliciting the Relaxation Response. In ancient traditions, however, what we now refer to as a mandala was used as visual focus for meditation. This has been continued in Jungian psychological approaches.
- Breathing - Breathe deeply and slowly using diaphragmatic or "belly breathing" and focus on the inward and outward rhythm of the breathing process.
Step 2 - Find a Quiet Place
Ideally, it is good to find a relatively quiet place free of distractions and to sit in a comfortable position. However, practitioners have still elicited some form of the Relaxation Response in noisy environments, but elicitation of the Relaxation Response in noisy environments has apparently not been widely researched.
Step 3 - Close Your Eyes
Gently Close Your Eyes
Gently closing your eyes helps to bring about a more inward focus, which is helpful in activating the Relaxation Response. Your eyes should remain closed throughout the process of eliciting the Relaxation Response and a few minutes or so afterwards.
Step 4 - Progressively Relax All Your Muscles
Relax Your Muscles for One or Two Minutes
Progressively relax all your muscles, beginning with your toes and moving up through your head. Take one or two minutes for this.
Step 5 - Begin Focusing on Your Chosen Entity
Step 6 - Assume a Passive Attitude
Step 7 - Continue for 12 to 15 Minutes
Step 8 - Practice at Least Once Daily
Step 9 - Use Mental Imagery
Step 10 - Continue for 8 to 12 Minutes
Step 11 - Let Your Body Return to Homeostasis
A common rule of thumb is to keep the eyes closed in the ratio of about 1 minute for every 10 minutes in which you were eliciting the Relaxation Response.
Step 12 - Return to Normal Activities