Information for medical clinicians

Why relaxation therapy?

Relaxation therapy reduces demand on the health care system. In Canada, 75-90% of all doctor visits are for conditions caused or aggravated by stress[1]. Relaxation therapy stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, reduces muscle tension and improves patient outcomes and quality of life. Patients who learn relaxation techniques can reduce their dependence on benzodiazepines and SSRI/SNRIs. Patients who acknowledge the behavioural component of anxiety may feel more empowered to promote wellness in their lives. All of this means that patients feel more in control of their stress and their personal wellness, while living happier, healthier and potentially longer lives.

Theory

In situations of stress, there is increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to the “fight or flight” response. Physiologic changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, blood supply to the muscles, and dilation of the pupils. It has been proposed that frequent stressful situations may lead to negative effects on health, such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, gastrointestinal distress, or depression of the immune system[2].

In contrast to the stress response, relaxation is characterized by decreased stimulation of the nervous system, as well as increased parasympathetic activity (urination, digestion, and other activities that occur when the body is at rest). This may include decreased metabolism, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and heart rate, as well as a feeling of calmness. Increased brain wave slow-wave activity (measured on EEG) has been reported. Alterations in the immune system may also play a role.

It has been theorized that by learning how to self-initiate the relaxation response, the negative effects of chronic stress may be counterbalanced. There are some reports that, with practice, states of relaxation can be achieved after several seconds. Mind-body interactive techniques and certain types of music and sounds have been suggested as means of establishing a state of relaxation. Rhythmic, deep, visualized, or diaphragmatic breathing may be practiced. Mental imagery and adaptive self-statements may also be included in such techniques.

Jacobson muscle relaxation, or progressive muscle relaxation involves flexing specific muscles, holding that position, then relaxing the muscles. This technique often involves progressing through the muscle groups of the body one at a time, beginning with the feet, spending 15 to 20 seconds on each area. Progressive relaxation may be practiced while lying down or sitting. This approach has been suggested for psychosomatic disorders, for pain relief, and to ease physical tension[3].

According to Dr. Herbert Benson, who coined the term “the relaxation response,” relaxation has been shown to decrease oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide output, to decrease the rate of breathing, to slightly increase oxygen levels in the blood, to decrease blood lactate levels (an indicator of stress), and to increase oxygen consumption during sleep.

Practice of relaxation therapy

In Canada, no formal credentialing or licensure exists for these relaxation techniques. Colin Stone holds a diploma with distinction in Relaxation Therapy from BSY (formerly British School of Yoga), an accredited college in the United Kingdom. He is a member of the BSY Association and Associated Stress Consultants (UK) and is a practitioner member of the American Holistic Health Association.

Safety

Most relaxation techniques are non-invasive and are generally considered safe in healthy adults. Serious adverse effects have not been reported. It is theorized that anxiety may actually be increased in some individuals using relaxation techniques and that autogenic discharges (sudden, unexpected emotional experiences, including pain, heart palpitations, muscle twitching, crying spells, or increased blood pressure) may occur rarely. Scientific evidence is limited in these areas. People with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or psychosis should use relaxation techniques only when recommended by their primary psychiatric healthcare provider. It is sometimes suggested by practitioners that techniques requiring inward focusing may intensify depressed mood, although scientific evidence is limited in this area.

Jacobson relaxation (flexing specific muscles, holding that position, then relaxing the muscles) should be used cautiously by people with illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or musculoskeletal injury. In these cases, Colin prefers to avoid the Jacobson method and instead uses the “body scan” method of tension awareness that does not involve physical tensing of muscles.

Colin uses a vibroacoustic sound therapy table (modified from the Somatron design) that uses magnetic transducers to vibrate the body with harmonious low-frequency sound. Any medical device, such as a pacemaker, implantable insulin pump or internal defibrillator that is affected by magnetic fields is a contraindication to vibroacoustic therapy.

Relaxation therapy is not recommended as the sole treatment approach for potentially serious medical conditions, and it should not delay the time to diagnosis or medical treatment.

Referring a patient

Please note that fees for service are not medical expenses and as such are not covered by MSI or reimbursable as medical expenses by Canada Revenue Agency.

Patients who have a serious health condition, are pregnant or are under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist will require a doctor's referral prior to booking an appointment with Colin.

To refer a patient to Colin, you can fax a referral on your letterhead to (902) 404-1732 or use Colin's referral form [download PDF].