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As you may have guessed, it was developed by a psychologist called Herbert Benson, and it incorporates distraction techniques.
This is how you do it:
There are three components.
Firstly, focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply rythmically and slowly.
Secondly, hear yourself saying silently in your head "r e l a x", or if you prefer the neutral mantra "one" then take a breath
Thirdly, you visualise something that keeps rhythm with your breathing. The image Helen used is a curtain in front of a window. Many of her clients visualise the tide coming in, lapping on the shore, and then going out.
We can use water as an example. Make yourself comfortable, then close your eyes. Feel your breath going in and out.
Focus just on that breath.
I want you to then hear a quiet wind in your head." Relax" or "one". Be aware of your breath and feel the quiet wind until you start to relax.
Say in your mind:" r e l a x" or "one", Breathe in.
"Relax" or "one", breathe out.
Now visualise yourself as vividly as you can on a beach.
It is the most beautiful day; just perfect.
This is your visualisation so it can be hot, warm or even cool; whatever you want.
The perfect day.
Visualise the water. No crashing waves, just those beautiful waves that break on the sand like a big shawl of lace, spreading outwards, covering the sand.
The waves comes in, as your breath comes in.
"R e l a x." or "one" breathe in.
The wave goes out as your breath goes out slowly with it.
Wave comes in…"r e l a x"…or "one"
Wave goes out.
Take two more breaths, two more waves…
Herbert Benson wants you to concentrate on three sensations.
First, feeling your breath is known as the kinaesthetic or feeling part of ourselves.
The word 'r e l a x' or 'one' is an auditory signal, and
The visualisation calls on the visual powers of our mind.
If we keep our mind busy on our feelings, and on hearing and seeing, then your brain is kept busy on those three levels. That gives it time away from being aware of other sensations - like pain, or the
tension you feel when you are beginning to be anxious.
Your mind is distracted from negative tendencies related to your anxiety and panic. That includes some of the things we have mentioned already, such as visualising, or imagining the very worst case scenario happening. It also distracts you - your mind - from that incessant negative self talk: this is terrible, I can't cope with this.
The Benson technique is a very specific strategy to move those three senses into an area where we have more control. We use our feelings, our auditory sense and our ability to visualise, to reduce the clutter and confusion in our mind.
Feelings of anxiety, panic and stress automatically reduce in intensity and so we achieve more balance and control.
Your Automatic Relaxation Trigger
It has been found that if you practise this technique for just one hundred minutes, it becomes paired with, or locked into, the back part of our brain in a section called themedulla. That hundred minutes is only ten minutes practice each day for ten days.
Themedulla controls all the things we don not have to think about, that we do automatically. Like breathing itself, or riding a bicycle once we have learned how.
If you practise the Benson technique for only one hundred minutes on average (fewer for some and maybe 120 minutes for others), the automatic message to relax gets locked in the medulla. Then, all you need are some cues and it will kick in. For instance, the cue to relax and distract yourself from stress might be the very act of saying," r e l a x" in your mind when you breathe in, then out.
It becomes like a mild post hypnotic suddestion of which you are totally in control.