Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Progressive Relaxation Technique II

The Progressive Relaxation Technique was created by Chicago physician Edmund Jacobson. He was the first person to accurately measure the electrical impulses in human muscles, nerves, and mental activities. In his study and treatment of stress, he proved that excessive or unresolved (i.e. residual) tension has a direct and causal relationship with both mental and physical illnesses; tension shortens the muscular fibers which causes a decrease in the central nervous system activity. He also determined that intentional and directed muscular tension and relaxation can relieve anxiety and stress, as well as being effective against ulcers, insomnia, and high blood pressure.

This led to the publication of his book Progressive Relaxation in 1929, followed by You Must Relax in 1934. His original works contained approximately 200 exercises to effect relaxation. Today, the Progressive Relaxation Technique practiced by most people has been reduced to fewer than 20 exercises, but does cover all the major muscle groups.



























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!


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. (This is called Autogenic Training.) 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.

My original article outlined the following instructions in a different order, starting at the foot and ending at the head. Today, I give those instructions in an order that is (I believe) closer to the original order of tensing and relaxing the muscular groups as outlined by Dr. Jacobson.


1. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

2. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

3. Shoulders. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your shoulder muscles. You may want to hunch your shoulders forward to tense the muscles, then relax; then hunch the shoulders backward, then relax. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your shoulders. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

4. 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, or turn your head from side to side. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your neck. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

5. Face. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your facial muscles. Instructions include, each to the count of five:

  • pursing the lips and then opening the mouth as wide as possible;
  • closing the eyes and then opening the eyes as wide as possible;
  • pushing your tongue into the roof of your mouth and then into the bottom of your mouth.

Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your facial muscles. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

6. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

7. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

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

9. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

10. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

11. 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. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

12. Toes. Inhale to the count of five while curling your toes and pointing your toes down and away from you. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your foot. Feel warm and comfortable. 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 http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060315/hl_nm/insomnia_dc

3 comments:

Geraldine said...

I have used this technique many times, it's great. Thanks for the reminder to incorporate this relaxing practise back into my daily life more often. I need it!!!

Michelle said...

Hi G,

Yes, I use it often, usually before meditation. I wonder if it makes a difference if you do it from the toes up or the head down.

I will have to try it this "new" way and see!

Geraldine said...

I've done it both ways, usually toes to head. It's all good!!!