The Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique

Progressive muscle relaxation is a deeply relaxing technique that was developed by Dr Edmund Jacobson back in 1929. He discovered that if you tense a muscle for a few seconds and then release it, the muscle will relax. And if you progressively tense and release various groups of muscles throughout your body, you will find yourself in a deep state of relaxation.

Dr Jacobson realised there was a link between prolonged muscle tension in the body and various physical and mental dis-eases. He was once quoted as saying "An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body."

The original program that he developed involved 200 different muscle exercises, but this has been reduced significantly and the whole activity now only takes about 20 minutes.

What are the Benefits of performing Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

The benefits of this relaxation activity are much the same as with many other deep relaxation exercises. You will notice immediate effects after each session of progressive muscle relaxation that you perform, and these include:

  • A decrease in your heart rate
  • A lowering of your blood pressure
  • A decrease in your rate of breathing
  • Your shoulders and chest will have relaxed, and so your breath will be deeper and not so shallow and high up in the chest.
  • Better oxygen levels in your bloodstream
  • Your brain wave activity will have shifted from beta waves to an increase in alpha waves, which results in a more relaxed mental state with less mental chatter.
  • And obviously, there will be less muscle tension throughout your body.

If you practice the progressive muscle relaxation technique regularly, at least once a day for 15-30 minutes, over a period of time you will begin to experience a general feeling of being more relaxed throughout your day. And there are many other long-term benefits to regular deep relaxation, such as:

  • A decline in your general anxiety and stress levels
  • Stress will not tend to build up over time as it often does
  • An improved ability to sleep well at night
  • Better concentration and ability to stay focused
  • A stronger immune system
  • An increase in your energy levels and general well-being
  • Greater feelings of self-esteem and confidence
  • A more positive mood and general outlook on life.

Okay, so how do you actually do progressive muscle relaxation?

The Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique

This deep relaxation exercise involves tensing and relaxing various different muscle groups around the body, one at a time. If you have a muscle injury anywhere in your body, you may want to skip that area for the time being.

Here are some guidelines to take note of before you get started:

  • Find a nice quiet spot where you are guaranteed not to be disturbed. Take the phone off the hook, or turn the answering machine down low.
  • Sit yourself comfortably in a chair with your head supported. A recliner chair is great. You can lie down if you prefer, but not if you think you might fall asleep.
  • Wear only comfortable clothing and remove your shoes and anything else that may distract you from relaxing.
  • Start by taking some nice, deep breaths into your abdomen rather than high up in your shoulders. If you want some help with abdominal breathing, have a look at my page ondeep breathing exercises.
  • Allow yourself this time to relax. There is no point sitting there thinking about your worries and concerns. The intention is to let go.
  • For each muscle group that you progressively relax, follow these guidelines: - hold the muscles tight for about 10 seconds, then release them suddenly. - allow them to relax for about 15-20 seconds before moving on to the next muscle group. - allow the rest of your body to remain relaxed as you work on each muscle group. - remained focused on the muscles you are working on, but don't be hard on yourself if your mind wanders into other thoughts. Just return your focus to your muscles. - don't strain yourself.
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Now, let's get started with Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

1. Begin by clenching your fists. Hold them tight as described above, then release them. Enjoy the feeling in your limp hands as they relax.

2. Tighten the bicep muscles on the tops of your upper arms by pretending to be a "muscle-man". Hold tight - then relax.

3. Tighten the triceps, which are the muscles at the bottom of your upper arm. This is best done with your arms out straight. Hold tight - then release.

4. Tighten the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows up high, as if you are surprised. Hold tight - then release.

5. Tighten the muscles around your eyes and in your cheeks by squeezing your eyes tightly closed. Hold - and relax. Enjoy the waves of relaxation that spread throughout your face.

6. Tighten the muscles of your jaw by opening your mouth as wide as you can. Hold - then relax, letting your jaw hang loose and your mouth be open.

7. Be careful as you tense the muscles in your neck by looking forward and then tilting your head back slowly, to look at the ceiling. Tense the muscles in your neck as you hold this position, but be gentle. Then relax.

8. After doing these exercises, notice the weight of your head and allow it to sink deeply into your chair or pillow.

9. Now, tighten your shoulders by tensing them as you bring them up as high as you can toward your ears. Hold - and relax.

10. Tighten your shoulder blades and upper back by pushing your shoulder blades together as if you are trying to get them to touch. Hold - and relax.

11. Tighten the chest and by taking in a deep breath. Hold - and relax as you exhale, letting all the tension flow away.

12. Suck in your stomach to tighten the muscles of your abdomen. Hold - and relax.

13. Tighten the muscles of your back by arching back slightly and deliberately tensing the muscles. Be careful if you have back problems, or you can skip this step altogether if you wish. Hold - and relax.

14. Tighten your buttocks by squeezing them together. Also feel the muscles of your hips tighten. Hold - and relax, and feel the whole area loosen.

15. Tense your thighs by squeezing the muscles from your knees to your hips. Hold - and let go, feeling your thighs go loose and heavy.

16. Pull your toes up toward you to tense the calf muscles. Do this carefully to avoid cramp. Hold - and relax.

17. Tighten your feet by pointing your toes and curling them downwards. Hold - then relax.

18. Gently notice your entire body, and if there is still any tension in any area, repeat the exercise for that muscle group until it feels relaxed.

19. Now, starting at the top of your head and progressing down to your toes, notice a blissful wave of relaxation spreading throughout your entire body. You can visualise this wave if you like, even giving it a colour as you mentally watch it flow from head to toe.

20. Take a moment to enjoy this relaxed state, then take a few deep breaths before you go about your day.

As with anything, the more you practice progressive muscle relaxation, the more you will be aware of both the tense and relaxed state of your muscles. And the time you take to perform this relaxation exercise will decrease a little. But don't ever rush it - give yourself the time you deserve to perform progressive muscle relaxation on a regular basis, and begin to enjoy the benefits.

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