“The Relaxation Response Institute is an organization I created in 1978,” recalls Bay, “when the only listings under the heading of STRESS in Toronto’s Yellow Pages were engineering companies.
Through it I offered keynote speaking and training programs to companies and organizations of all types, across the country and around the world.”
Bay believes that stress is the modern epidemic and has devoted his life to helping people develop the ‘relaxation response’ — the body’s natural antidote to stress. The relaxation response is a state of both body and mind that provides healing and revitalizing benefits.
Learning how to engage the relaxation response is what Bay believes to be one of the key skills for living in our modern world. “Stress is the body’s automatic default reaction to threats,” explains Bay. “It’s a fight or flight reaction — an arousal state that alters the entire chemistry of the body.
This same life-saving mechanism is recognized by leading medical researchers to play a significant role in well over 80 per cent of all illnesses. Why? Because our culture has changed but our body’s default mechanism hasn’t.”
Essentially the notion is that our bodies, built for a hunter-gatherer type of culture, now have to continuously adapt to change and increasing complexity. The body and mind constantly strain and most people rarely recuperate effectively from this on-going stress.
“As change comes faster and faster, we must realize that the body’s automatic reaction to any change, even good change, is the arousal state called stress,” confirms Bay. “Because it’s on all the time, it has become the norm and unrecognizable.
People even get addicted to their adrenaline rushes and don’t feel alive unless they are stressed. “By living in this culture, at this time, we live in constant stress. Yet, we don’t know any different until we actually let go of that stress,” explains Bay.
“The first step is to realize that stress is a normal part of the human condition and is only going to increase for everyone. Stress is definitely a major contributor to the major illnesses of our time.
If you don’t recognize the problem, you won’t do anything about it until serious problems arise.” That is precisely why Bay has made it his life’s work to help people understand and combat stress, opening his Toronto office and offering his services worldwide.
Growing up in small town Manitoba, Bay was like any other person — he had little idea about the stress in his life and how it affected him. No one would have predicted that he would eventually pioneer the field of stress management.
It wasn’t until the last year of his undergraduate studies that the first inklings of what was to come began to show. Through learning about the concept of exponential growth, Bay began to realize the scale of change we would experience and how many matters were going to result in many problems, if they kept growing at the rate that they were. “I began to sense ‘the future’ in a way different from others around me,” remembers Bay.
He began a personal journey, which involved contending with endless skeptics and critics, and ultimately led to the creation of the Relaxation Response Institute. “The relaxation response is a mechanism hardwired into the nervous system that produces the exact opposite effect of stress,” explains Bay.
“It relaxes muscles, slows down breathing, enhances the digestive processes, and calms the mind and the emotions. It provides an unusual state of rest and allows the body and mind to recuperate and repair itself. It truly is the pause that refreshes.”
The response can be triggered through many simple techniques. Something as easy as breathing the way a child breathes, deep into the lower abdomen, can do the trick. Another method is focussing the mind on the air coming in and out of the nose for several minutes to engage a state of rest.
Repeating a phrase such as “I am calm” as the only thought in your head for just a few minutes, can produce unusual tranquility in the body and mind. Alternately tensing muscles in the arms, legs, buttocks, stomach, face and shoulders can also create deep relaxation and deescalate stress.
Performing such techniques properly and regularly (more than four times a week) for 20 to 30 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your stress level. “I always tell people to do the process as an experiment with a critical, but open attitude,” says Bay. “You don’t have to believe in it. You just have to do it. What’s real is what you experience.”
Most people discover that many of their symptoms improve or disappear altogether. Tension headaches and sleeping problems are especially responsive to deep relaxation.
Most people enjoy more energy, are calmer and feel more in control. They think more clearly, their memory improves as does their job satisfaction and productivity. “I’ve seen people who have suffered for decades experience 180-degree turnarounds in just a few weeks.
This is not a result of magic or snake oil. It comes about because many of the harmful effects of stress are naturally reduced, and the body and mind have the opportunity to heal, replenish and restore.”
Through his best-selling CDs, seminars and relaxation training courses, Bay offers people real strategies — “21st century survival skills” — they can apply to their everyday lives. He doesn’t call it therapy, even though the results can be very therapeutic.
Bay’s approach is an alternative to taking medication, which is often the fix people turn to in times of stress. “Unfortunately, it’s much easier to pop a pill than to develop a skill,” Bay admits.
Nevertheless, Bay remains convinced that his methods are a necessity for living in today’s world. “After all these years, I can confidently state that the much needed release of stress creates exceptional balance and acts as a valuable bulwark to the excessive demands of modernity.
It produces astonishing tangible results, measurably boosting health, well-being and performance.”
While it’s impossible to eliminate all stressors, the key is to become adept at controlling reactions to them by using effective stress release to prevent stress from building to dangerous levels.
“My vision is that soon the relaxation response will be as prevalent in society as is exercise,” asserts Bay. So what better time to try to elicit your own relaxation response? Sit back, breathe deeply and unwind.