There is great wisdom in the Hawaiian expression “hang loose”. We could all benefit from taking more time to relax and not take life too seriously. However, for most of us it’s a delicate balancing act to stay calm and centered through all that life sends our way. What we may not fully realize is that taking time to relax deeply will not only keep us feeling better emotionally, it can help prevent chronic illness.

The World Health Organization cites stress as “a global epidemic.” They say that the effects of stress are more than emotional or physical. Stress affects all aspects of well-being, the end result being disease and illness. In a recent article in American Psychological Association it was reported that “75-90 percent of all physician office visits are for stress related ailments. Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.”

“The simple act of becoming relaxed can have surprising health benefits. In addition to the obvious psychological effects of relieving stress and mental tension, the new findings indicate, deep relaxation, if practiced regularly can strengthen the immune system and produce a host of other medically valuable physiological changes. Relaxation may also help ward off disease by making people less susceptible to viruses, and by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Research by Dr. Dean Ornish, director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in San Francisco, has shown that relaxation training improves blood flow to the heart. He also found that relaxation lowered cholesterol levels and lessened the severity of angina attacks.
Relaxation offers relief for many asthmatics by diminishing both the emotional upsets that can trigger attacks and the constriction of air passages that chokes breathing, according to a report by Paul Lehrer of Rutgers Medical School.
Diabetics can benefit from relaxation, according to research at the Duke University Medical Center. In a series of studies, Dr. Richard Surwit found that relaxation improved the body's ability to regulate glucose in patients with the most common type of diabetes. It is the body's inability to control glucose that ultimately leads to the damage done by the disease.
In a recent article in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Dr. Kabat-Zinn reported a sharp decrease in pain and related symptoms in patients trained in relaxation at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The patients in the study were able to lessen or, in some cases, stop altogether their use of pain drugs.
In another study researchers taught relaxation techniques to residents of a retirement home, whose average age was 74 years. After a month of training their levels of natural killer cells and antibody titers - indicators of resistance to tumors and viruses - had improved significantly, according to a report in Health Psychology.” Daniel Goleman

The information above is from an article that appeared in the New York Times over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, it seems that many of us have failed to take this message to heart. We often feel guilty when we take time out to relax. We feel as though we’re not “accomplishing” anything. It’s time to change our attitudes about relaxation. Think of taking time for deep relaxation as a very inexpensive health insurance policy!

The medical advantages are not from ordinary relaxing activities, such as napping or gardening, but from specific techniques that allow people to evoke a specific physiological state. ''’Just sitting quietly or, say, watching television, is not enough to produce the physiological changes,’ said Herbert Benson, director of the Division of Behavioral Medicine at Beth Israel Hospital, a part of Harvard Medical School. ‘You need to use a relaxation technique that will break the train of everyday thought, and decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system’.''

The relaxation techniques that have been used by doctors and hospitals range from ancient practices like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to more recent techniques like progressive relaxation and biofeedback. A common result of all of these approaches is that a person’s physiological state is altered so that they move from a “sympathetic” to a “parasympathetic” state. In lay terms, this means that the body moves from a “fight-or-flight” state with elevated blood pressure to a “relaxation response” where the body is less susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

The good news is you can learn simple relaxation techniques, which can be practiced at home, that will have profound effects on your health.

Using a guided relaxation recording is a simple and effective way to get started with practicing relaxation. Start practicing relaxation regularly and you’ll notice many positive results in your health and in your state of mind!

Author's Bio: 

Bette Phelan is a Certified Hypnotherapist and Medical Hypnotherapist. She is also a Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher with 30 years experience practicing, studying and teaching yoga.

Bette is the founder of, a free online yoga course for beginning yoga students. Her new CD, "Guided Relaxation for Stress Reduction & Deep Sleep" is available at: