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Relaxation and Imagery


Relaxation and Imagery


We know that what goes on in the body affects our thoughts, and what we think in turn affects the body. Like, when you have a pain or a headache, or your stomach is upset and you feel rotten, or you're worrying about the diagnosis, or something the doctor told you, or a procedure you have to have, it's common to start thinking, "I hate this. How long am I going to feel this way. What if I just keep feeling worse? Am I ever going to feel good and normal again? What if I get better and then it comes back? What if...?" These kind of thoughts just make you feel more uptight, and sometimes even make physical symptoms worse. Relaxation is a very useful tool for helping the body and mind chill out and settle into a calmer and more comfortable state. This relaxed state creates favorable conditions for healing and feeling better. Relaxation is a skill that anyone can learn with practice.

The body and mind are interconnected. The new field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) shows that what we think and feel creates chemicals and hormones in the body that directly affect our immune system and health. Depending on what we are thinking, what we think can makes us feel better or worse. Worry, fear, stress and feelings of pressure clearly put a strain on the body and the immune system (see Psychoneuroimmunology). And, when you've had cancer the worry and stress gets even greater.

Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in the mind-body connection for over 30 years, was the first to study relaxation and what he calls, "the relaxation response". His research shows that when the mind and body are deeply relaxed, your rate of breathing slows down, blood pressure lowers, and the whole body goes into a state of deep rest, even though you're not sleeping (although you might fall asleep easily when you're this relaxed). The relaxing mind gets calmer, it's easy to let go of worries, and to remember that you can handle whatever challenges you have. And, while the body and mind are calm and resting, the immune system gets nourished and becomes stronger. Research by Dr. Benson and many others show that when people relax regularly and frequently they feel less stressed, have more confidence, and are healthier.


Learning to relax is one of the simplest and best things you can do to help your body recover and give you the energy you need to handle the stress of dealing with cancer. It's a kind of mind-body treatment you can do yourself, along with the other treatments and medicines your doctor has you taking. After you've recovered from cancer, relaxing is also one of the best ways to keep your body-mind healthy and in balance. There are many different ways to relax, so it's best to experiment and find the method that works best for you. Then, it's important to relax deeply at least once everyday.


Benson, H. The Relaxation Response. New York: William Morrow, 1975.

Benson, H. Your Maximum Mind. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1984.

Borysenko, J. Minding the Body. Mending the Mind. Toronto, Bantam Books, 1987.

Hendricks, G. Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery. New York, Bantam Books, 1995.

Copyright 1998 Board of Regents of the University Wisconsin System.

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