Monday, July 31, 2006

Progressive Relaxation Technique

Originally published in my "Natural Stress-Free Living" newsletter of July 16, 2006. Just click on the heading or follow the link in the sidebar to subscribe.


Progressive Relaxation Technique

What it is:

Progressive relaxation is an excellent, natural practice that gives you the control to relax all your tense muscles, and practice deep breathing at the same time.

If you find yourself becoming tense and uncomfortable at home or work during the day, either mentally, emotionally, or physically, you can do the steps of the technique that address the area of your tension without performing the entire routine. For example, if mental tension has caused a headache, you would want to concentrate on relaxing the areas of the shoulders, neck, and head. Emotional tension such as anger or frustration is often centered in the hands, arms, and torso; abdominal, chest, and hand/arm exercises would be appropriate. Physical discomfort caused by sitting or standing in a fixed position for long periods of time may be reduced or eliminated by performing muscular tensing and relaxing on the affected leg and back areas.

If you suffer from insomnia, regularly doing this technique in bed before going to sleep will help you to get to sleep quicker, and stay asleep throughout the night. It may take a few weeks for this technique to become a fully effective sleep aid, but each time you do it, it will bring you closer and closer to a natural good night’s sleep. The progressive relaxation technique has proven over time to be a very effective sleep aid without the risk of side effects or dependency you have on medications. In fact, safety questions have arisen concerning some sleep-inducing drugs since people have exhibited short-term memory loss while taking the drugs, rare but bizarre side effects like binge eating, and severe withdrawal symptoms, even seizures, if the drug use is abruptly halted.1 Nature is safer!

For many years, I have used this exact progressive relaxation technique at the beginning of my meditation sessions. It is very safe and effective!



Where to start:

You may be seated or lying for this exercise.

If you are seated in a chair, place both your feet flat on the floor, and let your arms rest by your sides. Your hands may rest at your sides or in your lap. If you are in an armchair, do not rest your arms or elbows on the chair arms. Doing so will push your shoulders upward and tense the muscles in your arms, shoulders and neck.

If you are lying, be comfortable. You may want a pillow beneath your head and another under your knees if you like. If you are using this exercise as a sleep aid, you will want to be in bed and ready for sleep.

While performing this technique, it also is beneficial to visualize your muscular tension flow out of your body or sink into the ground as you relax each muscle group. Your physical body responds to the thoughts provided through your visual imagery or visualization, and you will be further relaxed by thinking thoughts of warmth and relaxation. (Note: don’t ever visualize or think of stimulating activity while trying to relax! You will be working against yourself.)

Pay attention to how you feel while relaxing, and use the memory of feeling warm, comfortable, and relaxed as part of your visualization for your next relaxation session. Each time you do this, the memory becomes stronger and more influential in aiding you in your comfort and wellness.

As always, if you have any medical condition, consult your doctor before performing this technique. If you experience discomfort or pain while performing the technique, Stop Immediately! People who are prone to foot or leg cramps may want to either skip the foot and leg sections of the technique, or only slightly tense the foot and leg muscles.



How to do it:

To begin, take between five and ten cleansing breaths; inhale deeply and slowly through the nose while counting three seconds (never inhale through the mouth). Exhale fully while counting three seconds, and imagine your tension leaving your body. You may exhale through the nose or the mouth. While taking your cleansing breaths, tell yourself how great and relaxed you are going to feel when you have finished Progressive Relaxation. If practicing before sleep, tell yourself how well you are going to sleep and how rested and wonderful you are going to feel in the morning.

1. Foot and ankle. Inhale to the count of five while pointing your toes down and away from you. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your foot. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

2. Feet and calves. Inhale to the count of five while pointing your toes up and your heel away from you to flex feet and calves. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your feet and calves. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

3. Thighs. Inhale to the count of five while tensing the muscles in your thighs. It may help to raise your leg an inch or so to tense the thigh muscles; raise the leg just enough to engage the thigh muscles, don’t do leg lifts. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your thighs; lower your legs if you raised them. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

4. Derriere. Inhale to the count of five while constricting the muscles in your buttocks. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your buttocks. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

5. Abdomen. Inhale to the count of five while expanding or pushing out the muscles in your abdomen. Exhale to the count of five while contracting or pulling in your abdominal muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

6. Back. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your back muscles. You may need to arch your back slightly to do this. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your back muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

7. Chest. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your chest muscles. You may need to cross your arms in front of you to do this. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your chest muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

8. Hands. Inhale to the count of five while clenching your fingers into fists and bending the wrist inward. Exhale to the count of five while stretching out and relaxing your fingers, and bending your wrist outward. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

9. Arms. Inhale to the count of five while bending your arms at the elbows and clenching the upper and lower arm muscles. Exhale to the count of five while stretching out your arms. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

10. Shoulders. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your shoulder muscles. You may want to hunch your shoulders to tense the muscles. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your shoulders. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

11. Neck. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your neck muscles. To deliberately tense the neck muscles, you may want to pull your head down as if you were a turtle pulling its head into its shell, or slowly and gently tilt your head from side to side or front to back. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your neck. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

12. Face. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your facial muscles by exaggerating the movements you might make if you bit into something very sour…lips pursed, eyes closed tightly, nose wrinkled up. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your facial muscles. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.




1
“Bizarre events linked to sleeping pills in US” Reuters news article, March 15, 2006

3 comments:

geraldine said...

I am looking forward to trying this...thanks for sharing. Would make a great CD, maybe something to add in the future?

Michelle said...

Hi geraldine,

You read my mind! :-)

I'm planning to record the Progressive Relaxation along with a couple of guided meditations and offering them on CD.

I'll announce the CD here when it's ready. :-)

Michelle

Geraldine said...

sounds great!

PS I am adding you to my blogroll today.

G