Mission and History

About the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

Since 2006, BHI has been integrating the field of mind/body medicine into Massachusetts General Hospital's clinical care, research and training programs. 

BHI accomplishes its objectives of integrated health care by:

  • Documenting and furthering the understanding of Mind Body Medicine through research
  • Providing treatment that reduces the physical and emotional impact of stress 
  • Training health care professionals, medical students, post-doctoral fellows, and educators 

Our History

The BHI's founder, Dr. Herbert Benson, was one of the earliest pioneers in the field of Mind Body Medicine.

As a cardiologist in the late 1960's he and his colleagues established a scientific basis for the mind/body connection at his alma mater, Harvard Medical School, by studying the effect of stress on blood pressure. At the time, the idea that stress could affect physical health was contrary to existing medical thought. 

While this research was underway, Dr. Benson was approached by young practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. They asked him to study their blood pressure, because they believed they had lower blood pressure as a result of their meditation practice. This type of study was virtually unheard of at the time, but he did consent, after much deliberation. 

The Relaxation Response

In the very room at Harvard Medical School where Walter B. Cannon had discovered the body's “fight or flight” response 50 years earlier, Dr. Benson and Robert Keith Wallace discovered its opposite.

Specifically, they found that meditation reduced metabolism, rate of breathing, heart rate, and brain activity. Dr. Benson labeled these changes the "relaxation response." The relaxation response is the foundation of Mind Body Medicine as practiced at the BHI. 

Through further study, Dr. Benson found that the necessary two basic steps to elicit the relaxation response are: the repetition of a sound, word, phrase prayer, or movement, and the passive setting aside of intruding thoughts and returning to the repetition. This can be done using any number of meditative techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, repetitive prayer, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, jogging, even knitting.

Integration of Mind Body Medicine Into Current Health Care Models

We now know that roughly 60% to 90% of doctor visits are for conditions related to stress. This stunning statistic tells us that stress is a massive public health issue, and that addressing it or, better yet, preventing it is essential to effective health care. The BHI is effectively helping to make Mind Body Medicine an integral aspect of our health care system, which increasingly recognizes the importance of disease prevention through self care and healthy lifestyle choices. 

At BHI, we see Mind Body Medicine as the third leg of a three-legged stool, the first leg being surgery, the second leg, pharmaceuticals and the third leg, self care, in which patients learn techniques to improve their own health through Mind Body Medicine, nutrition and exercise.

Thousands of patients are treated at the Benson-Henry Institute each year. Our clinicians, who are among the most experienced and effective in the field, use techniques that are scientifically proven to strengthen the natural healing capacities of body and mind. Our in-person and online trainings for physicians and other practitioners make it possible for us to bring this important work to health care professionals in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, BHI brings relaxation response-based programs to classroom teachers and students, the corporate sector, and the general public.

 

Join Our Network

We look forward to sharing occasional news and opportunities with the Mind Body Medicine community!

Events/Programs

December 2014
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  • Stress: Fight or Flight +

    Stress is the term used to define the body's automatic physiologic reaction to circumstances that require behavioral adjustments. The stress Read More
  • Relax in a Hurry +

    Mini-relaxation exercises help reduce anxiety and tension immediately. You can do them with your eyes open or closed (open when Read More
  • Resiliency +

    Some people respond to traumatic experiences in their lives - illness, death of a loved one, disability, loss of a job Read More
  • FAQ +

    What is the relaxation response? The relaxation response was defined by Herbert Benson, MD, in 1974 when he found that Read More
  • Relaxation at Work +

    "(We are) at a time when companies lose an estimated $200 billion annually in absenteeism, subpar performance, tardiness, and workers' Read More
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