A participant says HUBweek's De-Stress Boston event was a great opportunity to try stress reduction techniques taught by Benson-Henry Institute experts.

Massachusetts General Hospital kicked off its HUBweek events on Oct. 4, 2015, with “De-Stress Boston,” where experts from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (BHI) shared insight about how to reduce stress, build health and improve resiliency.

Through various events and experiences, HUBweek showcased the world-class work happening at the intersection of art, science and technology across Boston and Cambridge.

HUBweek, which took place Oct. 3-10, 2015, was hosted by the Mass General, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Boston Globe. Through various events and experiences, HUBweek showcased the world-class work happening at the intersection of art, science and technology across Boston and Cambridge.

I am a recent university graduate just getting started in my career and, over the past few years, the world of yoga and meditation has become extremely interesting to me. There are plenty of outlets in Boston where you can get a feel for this lifestyle but I was excited about the opportunity to find out what the experts at Mass General are teaching their patients.

Herbert Benson, MD, BHI founder and director emeritus, told those of us gathered at Mass General’s Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care that the importance of mind body medicine is rooted in the fact that stress is connected to a variety of health problems that can’t always be well treated with drugs or surgeries.

Stress and Breathing

Relaxation response is defined as a “state of deep rest.”Dr. Benson found that there was an opposite state to the stress response and he coined the phrase relaxation response to describe these techniques which can include yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

Dr. Benson asked us to pick a phrase that would serve as our personal repetitive focus. This might be a religious prayer or just a phrase or word as simple as “peace.” Phrases picked, each of us closed our eyes and spent four minutes in silence repeating it.

BHI founder Herbert Benson, MD, told De-Stress Boston participants that stress is connected to a variety of health problems.
BHI founder Herbert Benson, MD, told De-Stress Boston participants that stress is connected to a variety of health problems.

I chose the phrase “peace” as suggested by Dr. Benson. At first, I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that the room was packed with strangers who were about to sit in complete silence for several minutes but quickly my focus was solely on participating. Afterwards, I found that my breathing had slowed down.

Relaxation Starter Kit

Laura Malloy, LICSW, director of yoga programs at BHI, got the crowd moving with poses that benefit people who sit most of the day. Her chair-yoga session involved standing and sitting poses, as well as hand and eye exercises designed to bring awareness to muscles that are strained during a typical work day.

The key focus of Ms. Malloy’s yoga session was to practice quieting your mind, being more aware of your breath, and awakening important muscles. Ms. Malloy explained to the group that “the breath is what links the mind and the body.”

Lastly, Peg Baim, MS, NP, clinical director of the BHI Center for Training, taught her “starter kit” for relaxation response. Her exercise focused on training your brain not to think, sustaining focus and allowing yourself to “simply be.” Her technique uses the power of our memory to awaken a feeling within us.

Importance of Commitment

For example, in one of the exercises we used the phrase “smile” while inhaling and “release” while exhaling. We repeated this for several minutes. At the end, Ms. Baim asked if anyone noticed that an actual smile had formed during this relaxation response and many people raised their hands. In a small way, this showed me the power of the mind and how a relaxation response can trigger a physical reaction.

Although trying these techniques once may have some on the spot benefits, like enhancing focus, the real results come over time.

An important thing to note about relaxation techniques is the importance of commitment. An ideal practice is 20 minutes a day. Although trying these techniques once may have some on the spot benefits, like enhancing focus, the real results come over time.

I left De-Stress Boston feeling pretty peaceful. The original awkwardness of sitting in a room filled with strangers doing breathing exercises only lasted a few seconds.

The primary focus was to get inside my own mind which I felt I was able to do. My biggest take away from this event was that you can acknowledge an unwanted thought during relaxation response, move on from it and continue to focus your mind.

To learn more about how you can support the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, please contact us.