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Instant Calm: The Mini

Body+Soul, July/August 2006

More than 35 years ago, Benson identified the relaxation response, or the physical process that counteracts stress. His research proved that you can actually slow down your heart rate and breathing when confronted with a challenge. This, in turn, helps your blood pressure drop and your muscles relax. The process involves two steps. First, you must repeat a word, sound, prayer, or movement; second, if thoughts or feelings distract you, "passively disregard them and return to the repetition," Benson says. This exercise breaks "the train of everyday thought, including the fretting."

A simple way to call up the relaxation response in a hurry, says Benson, is with a breathing technique called "the mini." Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it for three counts. Exhale fully through your nose or mouth, and then pause for three counts. Repeat three times. If your mind wanders, redirect your attention back to your breath. Benson recommends practicing the mini in nonstressful situations first. He adds that it works faster and better if you develop daily habits that encourage the relaxation response, such as 10 minutes of meditation.

Get more tips to feel an instant calm.