Initiating therapeutic relaxation in Britain: a twentieth-century strategy for health and wellbeing.
This is the final version of the article. Available from Palgrave Macmillan via the DOI in this record.
In 1972, a British charity, Relaxation for Living, was established "to promote the teaching of physical relaxation, to combat stress, strain, anxiety and the tension of modern life, and to reduce fatigue". This article explores the origins and development of "physical relaxation" techniques and ideologies, starting in the interwar period, and the development of practical, therapeutic, social and cultural frameworks necessary for such an organization to come into being in 1970s Britain. It traces how relaxation was reconstituted as a scientifically-based skill that could be learnt and taught, imbued with therapeutic value for combating and preventing specific physical ailments and enhancing individual health and wellbeing. The article explores how relaxation techniques gained currency among particular demographic and clinical groups, ranging from middle-class, child-bearing women to middle-aged, "coronary-prone" men. This analysis highlights the role that relaxation practitioners played in both creating and responding to demand for individualistic health-management strategies, many of which have shaped contemporary health and wellbeing agendas. This article is published as part of a collection entitled "On balance: lifestyle, mental health and wellbeing".
The author is grateful to the Wellcome Trust for supporting this work through a Research Fellowship in Medical Humanities (grant number 104411/Z/14/Z) and thanks colleagues from the Hubbub group (resident at Wellcome Collection) and from the Centre for Medical History, University of Exeter, for stimulating thoughts and comments on earlier drafts of this article. Sincere thanks are also due to Richard Hilliard, past Director of the Relaxation for Living Institute, and Laurie van Someren, Director of Aleph One Ltd, for access to personal collections and uncatalogued archival resources. Elena Carter, Project Archivist at the Wellcome Library, greatly helped this research by granting early access to the NCT archives, including papers of Amber Lloyd, held at Wellcome Collection, London.
Palgrave Communications, 2016, 2, Article no.16043