Progressive muscle relaxation, also known as “PMR” is a well known deep relaxation technique that has been effectively used to control stress and anxiety, relieve insomnia, and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain.
This technique is based upon the practice of sequential tensing and relaxing all of the major muscles in your body. You start tensing the muscles from your head and continue until you reach your feet. Focusing on one muscle group at a time. This then is followed by a relaxation phase to release the tension. By tensing your muscles before relaxing them, you enable yourself to relax them more thoroughly after you release. This way you are letting go of physical tension more effectively, due to the fact that it is easier for muscles to relax from a position of high tension than it is from a position of lower tension.
Doctors have used progressive muscle relaxation in combination with standard treatments for symptom relief in a number of conditions, including headaches, cancer pain, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances.
Consciously exaggerating and releasing muscle tension will help you to learn how to recognize times when you are holding onto unnecessary muscular tension. This is a huge benefit since it will allow you to use this relaxation technique to relieve the stress when starting to build up, keeping it in check before it gets out of hand.
Progressive muscle relaxation is taught by health care professionals, including clinical psychologists and nurses, as well as hypnotherapists, yoga instructors, etc. Training can be held in groups or in one-on-one sessions. It can be taught during one session, or if preferred to be practiced under supervision to ensure you are doing it the correct way, it can be taught in a series of sessions as well. Another option is to learn it via using a self-help technique such as this audio for example.
Usually, sessions last for about twenty to thirty minutes. But depending on the frequency and the number of involved muscle groups, and breathing techniques, it might slightly vary in duration.
Fortunately, this technique can be learned and practiced virtually anywhere, which is why I would like to introduce it to you today. You do not necessarily need a professional or audio to teach you this technique. Some people may even be fine learning the basics simply by using our guide. Making use of a professional to help you perfect the technique and speed up your learning process, however, never ceases to be a bad idea.
If you decide to get started with an audio guide, or my blog-post as your guide, I recommend finding a quiet place to minimize the chance of getting distracted. The more you practice, the easier it will get for you to stay focused. Possibly even until the point where you would be able to perform this practice during a train ride to work or while being in a busy waiting room area.
As already explained in my blog-posts about meditation, visualization, and autogenic training, it is important to set designated time apart to pursue this kind of exercises. I recommend planning for a time window of at least forty minutes, in order not to get into the worry of running out of time too quickly.
Furthermore, I recommend setting an alarm for yourself, in case you drift off and fall asleep. If you are using your phone to set an alarm, keep in mind to set it to flight mode not to be disturbed by any calls or messages. If you decide to use a different alarm, keep in mind to choose one that will ring in a comfortable not too disturbing way, since it is supposed to help you come back slowly and relaxed, not in a quick alarming manner.
This exercise can be carried out lying down just as well as in a seated position. The important part is that you are in a position that feels comfortable to you and that assures you keep a straight back posture throughout the whole exercise. For me personally, for this particular exercise, it is more effective to stretch out and lie down, but that might as well just be me. For some others that might increase the chance of dozing off, which is not exactly what you are trying to achieve with this exercise. No matter if you decide to lie down or sit down, remember to uncross your legs so that you have a good circulation and your body can relax more easily.
Once you are in a comfortable position that allows you to keep a straight back, close your eyes and start by taking about six to seven deep breaths. Breathe in deeply through your nose, feel your abdomen rise as you fill your body with air. Hold the breath for about three seconds, and then completely release it again through your slightly parted lips.
Now imagine your body growing warm and heavy (as explained in your blog post about visualization). Slowly let go of any tension you might encounter.
Start by applying muscle tension to a specific part of the body. I usually like to begin by tensing all the muscles in my face and scalp. You can start by making a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, you can even include moving your ears up if you Care able to do so. Once ready, try to hold this tension for about six to seven seconds as you inhale.
Continue by exhaling and relaxing completely. Let all the tension you just build up on your face completely go again. Imagine how relaxed your face would be when sleeping. Feel the tension slip away from your facial muscles, and enjoy the feeling of relaxation. Take your time and relax completely before moving onto the next step. This step is essentially the same regardless of which muscle group you are targeting.
Pause for about thirty seconds between tensing each set of muscles.
Move on to the neck, inhale and squeeze all your neck and shoulder muscles as hard as you can without putting yourself in pain for about six to seven seconds. It is important to feel the tension in the muscles. Try to only tense the muscles you are targeting. Isolating muscle groups will get easier the more you practice. Once the six to seven seconds have passed, allow yourself to exhale and relax again.
The same way as with the face before, you can continue to repeat this exercise until you feel absolutely relaxed in this area. Especially, since many people, carry most of their tension in their neck and shoulder muscles. Take your time, and let yourself go.
It is important to truly focus on and notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation. This might even be the most essential part of the whole exercise.
Now slowly but continuously work your way down.
Continue going down your body, repeating the procedure with the following muscle groups:
The chest, the abdomen, the entire right arm (in case you are left-handed start with the entire left side instead), the right forearm and hand (making a fist), the right hand, then the entire left arm (if you have started with the left one, continue to move on to the right arm now instead), the left forearm and hand (again, making a fist), the left hand, your buttocks, the entire right leg (or again left leg first if you are left-handed), the lower right leg and foot, the right foot, entire left leg (in case you had not started with the left one already. Otherwise go ahead an focus on the entire right leg), the lower left leg and foot, the left foot.
For a quicker muscle relaxation focus on these four main muscle groups only:
Focus on the face muscles, the same way we explained earlier, but then continue by directly focusing on the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and arms all at the same time before moving on to focus on the abdomen and chest simultaneously and then continuing by focusing on the buttocks, legs, and feet all at once. I personally prefer to focus on each muscle group separately since it makes it easier for me to relax completely, but if that takes to much time for your taste, to focus on this four muscle groups as a four-step guide instead, also is an option.
After you have tensed and relaxed all the major muscle groups, it is important to spend some time simply relaxing and enjoying the peaceful mindset you will find yourself in.
Keep your thoughts focused on the rhythm of your breathing and the calmness that is flowing through your body only.
If a thought seems to cross your mind, simply let it flow away and go back to concentrating on your breathing instead.
Once you're able to relax your body from head to toe, your mind will feel more relaxed as well, and your overall stress levels will decrease as well.
To wrap up the session smoothly, open your eyes and begin to move your hands and feet slowly. Wiggle your toes and fingers. In case you were lying down during this exercise, roll over on one side for about thirty seconds before attempting to sit up. Then try to sit with your legs crossed comfortably for about three to five minutes. Keeping your hands gently relaxed on your knees, in order to give yourself a little time to move from a deeply relaxed state of mind, back to a more active one before continuing to move on with your amazingly wonderful day.
This exercise can help you minimize chronic stress and assist you in building resilience to the stress you may encounter in the future. Don’t worry we all are faced with situations that make us feel stressed every now and then. The difference is how we deal with those situations. Do we let the stress affect us or do we use techniques such as the progressive muscle relaxation to quickly de-stress at any time, in any situation? You are now equipped with the perfect tool to live a more relaxed life. To enjoy life more, to calm down your life and to be more in love with life. Make use of it!
An important note I would like to add is that you do not need to be feeling anxious when you practice this exercise. It is even better to practice it when being calm and then when you feel confident with it, use it to help you when feeling anxious. The more you practice, the better you become at it, and the quicker the relaxation response will “kick in” when you need it to help you out.
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