Psychobiological changes from relaxation response elicitation: long-term practitioners vs. novices

Psychosomatics. Nov-Dec 2011;52(6):550-9. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2011.05.001.


Objective: The relaxation response (RR) is a physiological state that is the counterpart to the stress response. We investigate the psychological and biological effects, as well as the correlation between these two effects that are associated with short-term vs. long-term practice of techniques that elicit the RR ("RR practice").

Methods: The study comprised both a cross sectional and an 8-week prospective design. The study sample included individuals with a long-term RR practice ("long-term practitioners" n = 28) and those with no prior RR practice experience ("novices" n = 28). The novices received 8 weeks of RR-elicitation training ("RR training") for the prospective analysis (short-term practice).

Results: Long-term practitioners reported lower levels of psychological distress than the novices before they received RR training. As a result of the 8-week RR training, novices significantly reduced their psychological distress to levels comparable to that of long-term practitioners. Long-term practitioners had greater immediate (after listening to a RR-eliciting CD) decreases in psychological distress level than the 8-week trained novices. Furthermore, the reduction in psychological distress levels for long-term practitioners correlated with a reduction in biological measures of stress, after controlling for baseline values. There was no reduction in biological measures and no correlation with psychological measures in the 8-week trained novices.

Conclusions: While our data indicate that even a short-term 8-week RR-eliciting practice can decrease psychological distress levels, only after years of RR practice does psychological distress reduction coincide with biological change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Compact Disks
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Epinephrine / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Relaxation / physiology*
  • Relaxation / psychology
  • Relaxation Therapy / education
  • Relaxation Therapy / methods*
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine