Beyond the Relaxation Response (Part 1)

Until recently, meditation was considered a “spiritual” activity, a perception that caused many people to turn away from or avoid it altogether. In the 1970s, however, research led to the development of the Relaxation Response, Dr. Herbert Benson’s technique for promoting stress reduction and worker productivity. By borrowing techniques from Transcendental Meditation and other Eastern meditation methods and re-purposing them, Dr. Benson discovered a creative way of popularizing meditation.

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My own research has uncovered benefits that go way beyond the Relaxation Response, and point to meditation as much more than a spiritual activity: it's physical exercise, albeit, a less-is-more form of aerobics, which, by the way, if practiced scrupulously, leads to metaphysical encounters and higher consciousness.

By adding one simple step to the Relaxation Response, or any other serious meditation method, I have designed a system with tangible therapeutic and restorative health benefits. I call it, Golden Flower Meditation or (GFM), not for religious or spiritual affiliation reasons, but out of deference to the ancient Chinese who developed and practiced the method.

The key to GFM is “the backward-flowing method.” Adding this one step to a meditation practice like the Relaxation Response opens the door to a safe, permanent Kundalini awakening, after which, self-healing, higher consciousness, stable life style, and emotional control are probable by-products.

After researching energy cultivation techniques for many years — and getting nowhere — I obtained a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, an ancient Taoist text from a stranger. Eventually, I spent two years mastering the intricacies of the method, especially the arcane “backward-flowing method.” Ultimately, success unleashed a powerful transformational force that rooted out all traces of illness and malformation in my body.

Through GFM my nervous system was stimulated such that the natural chemical substances of the body were recombined and used for healing. Is this remarkable meditation technique capable of bestowing similar therapeutic benefits on all those who master it? I believe it is. As long as the method is implemented correctly, many disabilities related to the nervous system are susceptible to treatment by this method. No, degenerative illness like heart disease and stroke cannot be cured by GFM because, just as the term degenerative suggests harm done to the body by poor diet and bad habits cannot be reversed.

Front Cover Deciphering the Golden Flower

If the Relaxation Response establishes a healthy climate for combating stress, consider the extended benefits of GFM. GFM is not only about becoming a healthier person; it's also a useful ingredient in the pursuit of self-actualization. Once the practitioner has mastered GFM, his ability to avoid addiction, to make well-reasoned decisions, to manage health, and to live naturally will improve dramatically. Who is suited for GFM? I believe it particularly interests doctors, trainers, researchers, scientists, nurses, students, laymen in all walks of life — in hospitals, businesses, universities, schools, progressive learning centers, and clinics.

Deciphering the Golden Flower One Secret at a time is the story of my discovery of the “backward-flowing method.” As for "the secrets," this book is not a laundry-list of techniques; it's an account of one individual's trial-and-error discovery and practice of GFM. Why take this approach? In teaching the GFM method, I've discovered that:

  • People are impatient; they want get to the payoff without putting in the work. The method is a series of dependencies. You must master each step in turn; you cannot skip steps,
  • In the past, even though I offered a meticulously prepared list of steps and how to apply them, many people either got lost, misunderstood, or misapplied the steps in practice,
  • The book allows would-be practitioners to get a sense of what's involved, not only in the practice of the method, but also in what to expect afterwards. I've been living with kundalini for 40 years; that prospect is not something to be taken lightly. 

Although some of Dr. Benson’s acolyte’s have divided the method into many sub-steps, Benson describes the critical steps as being:

  1. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word, "ONE", silently to yourself. For example, breathe IN ... OUT, "ONE",- IN ... OUT, "ONE", etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
  2. Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating "ONE." With practice, the response should come with little effort.

He sums up the two steps as follows:

  1. Focusing the mind on a word, phrase, or sound.
  2. Passively disregarding interfering thoughts.

According to various write-ups, “Herbert Benson, M.D. coined the phrase (Relaxation Response) after studying people who practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM). Benson took the principles of TM and removed them from their Eastern religious context in order to make them more accessible for westerners.

“The Relaxation Response represents a form of meditation which has been practiced for many years. The technique can be found in every major religious tradition. It is a simple technique, but it is not easy to practice or to incorporate into your life. You will find your mind wandering, and you will probably find it difficult to set aside the time to practice. It feels like setting aside 20 minutes a day to sit and do nothing.”

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“If you incorporate this or any relaxation technique into your life, you may notice at least the following four benefits:"

  • "You will gain increased awareness of whether you are tense or relaxed. You will be more "in touch with your body."
  • "You will be better able to relax when you become stressed-out.
  • "You may even reduce the resting level of your autonomic nervous system - walking around more relaxed all the time.
  • "Your concentration may improve. By repeatedly bringing yourself back to the meditation you are strengthening the part of your mind that decides what to think about.”

That’s a third party take on the Relaxation Response. The big news here is his finding that meditation impacts health in a positive manner. This is no surprise to those already familiar with meditation, but the scope of Benson’s project, its scientific methodology demonstrates the enormous potential of meditation.

What about Benson himself? What does he think? According to him, “The Relaxation Response seemed to cure or help any medical condition or illness to the extent that condition or illness was caused or exacerbated by stress. Because this physiological state was accessible to everyone, I became convinced that the Relaxation Response was the opposite of, and perhaps the antidote for, the stress-induced, fight-or-flight response.

“I found that anyone who employed the two steps could elicit the physical changes of the Relaxation Response.”

More important than his health claims is Benson’s insistence that meditation induces physiological changes, or transformation.

First of all, whether a basic meditation method like the Relaxation Response contains two steps or two hundred, its immediate purpose is to produce the physiological change and transformation observed by Dr. Benson. So instead of judging a method by the number of steps, we need first to understand the physiological changes a basic two-step method hopes to induce and how efficient that method is in inducing them.

The physical changes produced by a basic two-step meditation method are:

  1.  The development of systematic diaphragmatic deep breathing.
  2.  The use of diaphragmatic breathing to control heart rate.

In a little while I will propose a third, and even more powerful transformational step, but first I want to discuss the two steps mentioned above, both of which require physical intervention on the part of the practitioner.

In Step One you encounter the notion of diaphragmatic deep breathing or the training of the diaphragm to regulate and improve your breathing. Unfortunately, since you cannot control or even isolate the muscles of the diaphragm directly, you must find a "handle" that allows you to do so indirectly. That handle is the belly or abdominal muscles.

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If you push the belly out to pull in air on inhalation and pull the belly in to expel air, you are embarking on a regimen of abdominal and diaphragmatic calisthenics. Starting this activity for the first time — whether sitting, walking, or lying down — you may feel a burning sensation. That is the muscles of the abdomen and diaphragm telling you that you're breathing correctly. Using the belly muscles is like pump priming, i.e., using the handle of a pump (the belly) to activate the pump mechanism (the diaphragm). More on the method and the importance of "centering yourself."

Step Two uses the acquired diaphragmatic deep breathing skill as a means of slowing down the heart rate, which has the effect of relaxing the body, hence the achieved goal of the Relaxation Response. Again, since you cannot influence or control the heart rate directly, you must use a subterfuge or "handle" to accomplish it — in this instance, you use your mastery of Step One (diaphragmatic deep breathing capability) to make the breathing more profound and more regular. What do I mean by more regular? Regular means both rhythmic and deep.

Because you’ve acquired the diaphragmatic deep breathing skill, you can now take in more air during each breath cycle. How does this work? Shallow breathing merely fills the lungs. Deep breathing fills the lungs, the diaphragm, the belly, even pockets behind the kidneys. With diaphragmatic deep breathing you not only take in more air, you slow down the inhalation/exhalation cycle to the point where breathing is entirely silent. The Secret of the Golden Flower says, “Only the heart must be conscious of the flowing in and out of the breath; it must not be heard with the ears.” Like the diaphragm, the heart is a muscle you cannot isolate or control directly. Once again you use a “handle” to control the heart (the source of emotion). As The Secret of the Golden Flower says, “The heart cannot be influenced directly. Therefore, the breath-energy is used as a handle."

Stay tuned for Step Three: The Backward-Flowing Method (to be continued)

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