Choose a Relaxation Agent – a word or phrase that you feel comfortable with or the rhythm of your breath.

Purpose of the Relaxation Agent

The first step is to choose what this site refers to as a relaxation agent, or what Dr. Benson refers to as a mental device. The relaxation agent provides a place of focus to which your attention can return when you notice that your attention is on other thoughts. The Relaxation Response seems to work with an easy and gentle repetition of the appropriate relaxation agent and returning our attention to the agent when we notice other thoughts. By starting this repetition, our mind shifts from a logical, externally oriented state of mind to a more relaxed, internally oriented state of mind.

If You Have a Tradition for the Relaxation Response

As explained in the Traditions section, the choice of the relaxation agent has often been set by a spiritual or religious tradition. If a given tradition applies to you, then it usually makes sense to use a relaxation agent from your tradition.

If You Do Not Have a Tradition for the Relaxation Response

You may not be aware of any part of your tradition for bringing about the Relaxation Response or you may not practice any tradition. In this case, if you want to bring about the Relaxation Response then you should be safe using a relaxation agent of your choosing. It is important, however, to choose a relaxation agent that does not create any mental or emotional unease. Dr. Benson suggests that if you choose a word or phrase it should be in your native language, but other traditions sometimes do not have the same advice.

More Common Relaxation Agents

Some examples of words or phrases that have been successfully used to bring about the Relaxation Response are as follows.

  1. General Word or Phrase – [English]: “One”, “Love”, “Peace”
  2. Word or Phrase with Religious Connotations – [Hebrew/English]: “Shalom”, [Sanskrit/English]: “Om”, “Auṃ maṇi padme hūṃ” [Arabic/English]: In sha Allah
  3. 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 relaxation agents.
  4. Image – There appears to be less guidance for the use of images for bringing about the Relaxation Response. In ancient traditions, a mandala was used as visual focus for meditation. This has been continued in Jungian psychological approaches.
  5. Breathing – Breathe deeply and slowly using diaphragmatic or “belly breathing” and focus on the inward and outward rhythm of the breathing process.

Less Studied Relaxation Agents

The most common types of a relaxation agent for scientific studies of the Relaxation Response is a repetitive word, phrase. prayer, image or the rhythm of breathing. However, there are also a wide variety of other agents that may produce the Relaxation Response. These may actually be more commonly used in general. However, these relaxation agents have been less studied in terms of the Relaxation Response. On p. 96-97 of the Relaxation Revolution, the authors mention the following possible agents to bring about the Relaxation Response (in addition to those found in the Traditions section).

  • Repetitive Aerobic Exercise – if it does not require great concentration or high bursts of energy
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – See Step (~/4) below
  • Playing a Musical Instrument or Singing – Memorized sequences on a musical instrument or chanting or singing
  • Listening to Music – Soothing music with repetition in it, either vocal or instrumental
  • Tasks that use “Mindless” Repetitive Movements – Examples include gardening, woodworking, knitting or doing needlepoint
  • Natural Triggers – Examples include listening to ocean waves, floating in a calm pool, standing under a shower, sitting alone in the woods and contemplating natural sights, lying on your back and looking up at the clouds

If you choose a relaxation agent from this list then you also may need to change the steps in the Simple Protocol or Benson-Henry Protocol in an appropriate way.