Monday, August 22, 2011

Dr. Herbert Benson on The Relaxation Revolution

(Dr. Herbert Benson is the Harvard medical professor who first launched me on the thoughts that started me blogging.  I wanted to write about simple, inexpensive and quick techniques that enhance our thinking, our lives, our fun and our worth to others.)  This is an excerpt from the preface to The RelaxationRevolution (2010) that explains the expanding role of meditation in health and medicine.

"A mind body revolution is under way in the medical world. This revolution is regularly punctuated by research breakthroughs, including our most recent findings that mind body strategies can actually "switch off" or "switch on" gene activity or gene expression associated with disease. My professional life over the past four decades has been devoted largely to furthering our understanding of the science and the exciting treatment possibilities of these mind body phenomena. For me, it all began back in the early 1970s with my identification of the relaxation response, the term that I coined to describe the physiologic reaction that is the exact opposite of the stress (fight-or-flight) response. The fight-or-flight response is a reaction that prepares the body to act upon fears and physical challenges through the secretion of such stress hormones as adrenaline and noradrenline. Since that foundational moment, much of my research—along with that of colleagues I have worked with at the Harvard Medical School, its affiliated hospitals, and other research centers—has focused on understanding the relaxation response phenomenon. Among other things, we have established the first effective therapy to counteract the harmful and pervasive effects of stress. We have also explored how the relaxation response relates to other mind body phenomena, such as the placebo effect, a mechanism that may produce healing through belief and expectation.

"In fact, we believe that mind body science has now reached a stage where it should be accepted as the third major treatment and prevention option, standing as an equal alongside drugs and surgery in the clinical medical pantheon. Hence, it seemed quite appropriate to call this book the Relaxation Revolution.

"But like most true revolutions, this one has taken on a life of its own. In the beginning, I never anticipated that the physiologic effects we were seeing with the relaxation response—including reduced metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate—would be accompanied by molecular changes, such as an increase in exhaled nitric oxide. I had no idea that experts in fMRI technology would find a calming and "opening" of the brain to healing possibilities. I didn't foresee that scientific and treatment links would be established with other mind body phenomena, such as the therapeutic power of expectation and belief. Most recently, I was as surprised as many of my scientist colleagues when we found that the relaxation response can actually alter gene activity—the way that genes express themselves and thus influence the body. Although the genes themselves are not changed through this process, the genetic activity that we have discovered will almost certainly have profound implications for your personal health and our medical practice.

"Furthermore, this revolution reaches beyond the treatment of disease to the prevention of disease. In particular, mind body medicine has significant implications in the vast, burgeoning field of stress management; according to a growing body of research, stress has a huge impact in causing or exacerbating many diseases. The potential is enormous for preventing such stress-related conditions as insomnia, lower-back pain, hot flashes, premenstrual syndrome, and various types of tension and migraine headaches. Finally, there is the potential for a revolution in reducing the cost of medical care..."

Benson, Herbert; Proctor, William (2010). Relaxation Revolution . Scribner. Kindle Edition.

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