For seven years Dr. Charles Stroebel, a Connecticut psychiatrist, suffered from chronic headaches. "The pain was unremitting," he says, and so severe that he began to fear he had a brain tumor. He consulted 20 doctors, from California to New York. Besides agreeing that he had no tumor, all of them gave him the same advice: "Just relax." Easier prescribed than done, but the suggestion enabled the physician to come up with a cure for himself.

His remedy for the torment he'd been through: a six-second exercise he calls the Quieting Reflex. He developed it in 1974 after experimenting with both Transcendental Meditation and biofeedback. Today it is used by 4,000 therapists on more than a half-million patients and taught to pupils in about 40 school districts across the U.S. "I'm not going to tell you this is a miracle cure," says author Gerald Green {The Last Angry Man, TV's Holocaust), who has been using QR for eight years for migraines. "But it's relieved me of a lot of pain." Neurologist Seymour Diamond, executive director of the American Association for the Study of Headache, cautions that QR is "not a panacea. Some people need psychotherapy with it."

The technique, says Stroebel, whose book QR: The Quieting Reflex (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $12.95) has just been released, is more complicated than it sounds. "This isn't a six-second fix for stress," Stroebel warns. "You have to make a commitment to learn QR, which takes adults about six months before it becomes authentic." (Children, he says, have less accumulated stress and need only half that time.) The first step, he says, is for the tension sufferer to be aware of his own condition. "Many people have become so used to stress," he observes, "they don't know when it's happening." Second, the subject should say to himself, "Alert mind, calm body." This, Stroebel explains, "arouses your sense of self-mastery and shows your brain it doesn't have to be at the mercy of a body that's always in passing gear." Third, smile inwardly to relax facial muscles. Fourth, relax the temporomandibular joint (the jaw's hinge) and inhale while counting to three, imagining the air coming in through the soles of the feet. Next, attempt to feel the air coming up through the legs and into the stomach and abdomen. Finally, he should exhale, letting his jaw, tongue and shoulders go limp and feeling the warmth and heaviness leave the body.

Stroebel, 46, explains that QR works by reversing the initial reaction the body has to stress: tensed muscles, shortness of breath and constricted blood flow. He estimates that about 20 percent of the population can't learn the technique. "A lot of depressives," he notes, "just don't have the energy to follow through until they come out of their depression." But he believes QR could save many lives, especially among tense urban residents. "Such people feel stress at least 50 times a day," he says. "Many common medical problems—hypertension, heart disease, migraines and ulcers—can be caused by pressure."

Stroebel himself was programmed for the hectic life. Raised in Minnesota, he was the eldest of five children born to Dr. Charles F. Stroebel Jr., an internist at the Mayo Clinic, and his wife, Eleanor, a pianist. "Both parents," Stroebel remembers, "were remarkable in stimulating real curiosity." As a student at Rochester High, he was already first chair oboe in the city's symphony orchestra. In 1958 he graduated from the University of Minnesota. A year later he wed a coed he had met there, Jane Kasper. He received a Ph.D. in physiological psychology from Minnesota in 1961 and since 1962 has been working in Hartford at the Institute of Living, a nonprofit, private psychiatric hospital. Stroebel received his M.D. from Yale in 1973, four years before his wife died, leaving him with their children, Chuck, now 16, and Lisa, 22. Later in 1977 he married a divorced Hartford neighbor, Liz Gibbons, who had three children of her own.

Stroebel unwinds by playing the harpsichord. He is also writing a book about Bach. "He wrote secret messages into various themes by assigning letters to the notes," Stroebel maintains. "He loved to spell his own name forward and backward."

Liz Stroebel, a teacher for 22 years, has introduced her husband's techniques to children as young as 3. Stroebel himself, who lectures at Yale in addition to logging 70-hour weeks at the institute, is working with Liz on a QR book for kids. Admits Stroebel: "Because of QR, I can become involved in lots of things that normally would have pushed me to the exhaustion point."