The Power of Deep Relaxation


Recently I began a serious practice of deep relaxation as part of my heart rehabilitation through the Dean Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program. I’ve followed other spiritual programs in the past including yoga, deep breathing, visualization, and some meditation but have not found the results to be as powerful as what I’m experiencing now. In part this is due to my commitment and consistent practice and in part due to the nature of deep relaxation.

My usual daily practice is a voice-guided, hour-long regimen that can be done on the floor or in a chair. It includes body awareness, slow and gentle stretches, and continual attention to my breathing. I normally feel not only deeply relaxed but a state of well-being when I finish. I’m more centered and present, more calm and less reactive to potentially upsetting events. It makes a big difference.

We have long known the benefits of exercise on overall health as well as prevention of serious diseases. I’ve read articles which state that there are no pills or medical treatments that affect so many areas of our health as even moderate exercise. However, we’re now learning that relaxation and stress reduction techniques may have as much and perhaps a bigger impact on illnesses as well as overall-health than exercise or certainly exercise alone. Ornish Lifestyle medicine conducted a study with their own program participants to compare the impact of increasing minutes spent in exercise each day vs. minutes spent in relaxation. Both groups increased their average minutes exercising and relaxation from 60 to 90 minutes per day. Although both groups improved their overall health and lessened their risk for future cardio-vascular incidents, the relaxation group received the greatest benefit. Relaxation is powerfully associated with less disease risk and greater health.

I mentioned a few of the benefits I am getting from my relaxation practice. The Mayo clinic lists the following physical health benefits from learning relaxation: slowing heart rate and breathing, lowering blood pressure, reducing blood sugar levels, improving digestion, reducing stress hormones, increasing blood flow to major muscles, improving sleep, increasing energy, and reducing muscle tension and pain. (See http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368?pg=2)

And here are other benefits typically reported by people who participate in these programs over time:

  • Ability to act creatively and spontaneously rather than react based on fears
  • Ability to enjoy each moment
  • Decreased tendency to worry and feel anxious
  • Episodes of appreciation and contentedness
  • Feelings of connectedness with others and nature
  • Loss of interest in judging others and less conflict in relationships
  • Tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen
  • An urge to extend love to others as well as receive love from others

There are many different practices to increase relaxation. Some forms of yoga, visualization, meditation, and deep breathing induce a state of relaxation. A common practice is deep muscle relaxation or tensing (5 seconds) and then relaxing (30 seconds) different groups of muscles working from the feet to the head. Another is simply directing one’s attention to different parts of the body, usually moving from feet to head or head to feet. The key is to find something that works for you.

What gets in the way for most of us is time and discipline. We are busy. And then when we want to relax it seems easier to turn on the television rather than do a formal relaxation process. But I’d suggest that the television is really more of a distraction than means of relaxation. It diverts us from the chatter in our brains or distressing emotions that we accumulate throughout the day but does not help us connect with a deeper calm and sense of well-being.

Of course, if you have not done this before then it makes sense to go slowly. Start with five minutes. Find a quiet place and either sit or lie down for a few minutes of quiet. Notice and follow your breathing. Then take a few moments to pay attention to the different sensations in your physical body and practice relaxing different body parts by letting them feel heavy and relaxed. Practice this for a few days or weeks. There is not a right or wrong way to do it. Most important is to have the intention of feeling more physically and emotionally relaxed. Even a few minutes can make a big difference.

If after a few days or weeks you are enjoying the practice then you can increase its length to 10 or 15 minutes and longer as you choose. The idea is to do it gradually enough that you can still enjoy the practice and notice the benefits. As you experience the benefits you’ll want to continue.

Know that there are also many resources to help you develop a relaxation, mindfulness, or meditation practice. Download the app “Insight” onto your phone. Or go to YouTube and search relaxation and scan the different options that come up. Hopefully, you’ll find something you enjoy. Then stick with it and see if it doesn’t help you to a more contented and happier life.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

4 responses to “The Power of Deep Relaxation”

  1. Angel says:

    I am definitely going to try this! I seem to go from one high stress situation to another. Thx for sharing this!!

  2. Richard Corey says:

    As always I am grateful for your information. I will add your suggestions to my meditation and tai chi. I’m sorry to learn that you have heart issues. I will pray for you.

  3. Thanks, Roger. Great information.

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