Progressive muscle relaxation is a systematic technique developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s and helps manage stress while helping the practitioner to achieve a deep state of relaxation. The fact of contracting and then releasing the different muscle groups allows you to achieve a state of tranquility while providing a number of beneficial health effects. For example, this technique can improve the quality of sleep, reduce pain during childbirth, alleviate anxiety and depression, relieve headaches, upset stomach and feeling tired. This method can help anyone quit smoking by reducing cravings for cigarettes! To get the most benefit, it is advisable to practice a form of progressive muscle relaxation that includes deep breathing exercises and guided visualization.
Part 1 of 4: Prepare
Step 1. Pick a time when you don't feel drowsy
While useful for inducing sleep, the goal of this technique is to teach you how to relax while you are awake. You should not doze off in the middle of a session.
Step 2. Dress comfortably
Loose clothing is the best choice. Do not wear anything too tight, as it may limit your movement. Also remember to remove your shoes so that you can stretch and relax the whole body properly.
Step 3. Keep a blanket on hand
Often, when we enter a deep state of relaxation, we tend to feel cold. Have coverage when you need it. The heat will help your muscles relax even more.
Step 4. Choose a quiet location
Find a place where you are sure not to be disturbed or interrupted during the session. Ideally, choose a small, airy space in the house. If possible, dim the light to create a calming atmosphere.
- You can put a sound environment reproducing sounds of nature, bells, the wind blowing in the trees or the waves. Music can also mask surrounding noises that you cannot stop.
- Some people like to burn incense or scented candles.
Step 5. Make sure you are not interrupted
A full session lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. Switch off your cell phone. If you have a landline, temporarily turn off the ringer. Ask your family members not to interrupt you during your session.
Step 6. Get into a comfortable position
You can practice progressive muscle relaxation by standing, sitting or lying down. The ideal is to stay in a reclining chair. This position allows you to relax more than if you were standing, but you run the risk of falling asleep as well. Then close your eyes, uncross your legs, and comfortably put your hands on your side or thighs.
Step 7. Breathe deeply five times
Research has shown that deep breathing naturally triggers relaxation responses, characterized by a drop in blood pressure and a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Breathe in deeply, hold your breath for four seconds, then relax as you breathe out. Watch how your abdomen inflates and deflates with each breath. After you have taken five deep breaths, you are ready to begin.
Part 2 of 4: master the basic techniques
Step 1. Inhale while contracting the muscles
Work on one part of the body at a time. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose as you tighten the muscles for 5 seconds. The goal is to tighten the muscles with all your might without hurting yourself.
Step 2. Relax the muscles as you exhale
Slowly exhale through your mouth as you relax your muscles quickly to release any tension in the muscles. Concentrate on your muscles which are now relaxed.
Step 3. Wait 10 seconds before switching to another muscle group
Do not rush. Taking breaks between a phase of tension and a phase of relaxation will help you relax your body if you are doing it slowly and spontaneously. While remaining relaxed, breathe slowly and evenly.
Step 4. Use your imagination
Heat is linked to relaxation. You can help your body relax more by imagining the sun warming the part of your body that you are focusing on. You can also imagine yourself in a quiet and safe place before or after the session (see the last step of this article).
Step 5. Repeat these steps until the whole body relaxes
You can start with the head and work your way down to the toes, or you can do it the other way around.
- If a muscle group is still tight, you may choose to repeat the stress-relax cycle before moving on to the next muscle group.
- Some people find it helpful to start with one side of the body and then the other. However, if you have little time, you can relax both sides simultaneously.
Part 3 of 4: relax the muscles from the toes to the skull
Step 1. Start with the feet and toes
Breathe in deeply through your nose as you pull the toes down and straighten the soles of the feet. Hold the contraction for five seconds, then release. Observe how all the tension disappears from your body, then compare this feeling of relaxation to the sensation you perceive when you contract your muscles. Relax the entire body for ten seconds before moving on to the leg muscles.
Step 2. Contract the leg muscles
Stretch and relax your legs while focusing on one muscle group at a time and then the whole. Remember to breathe in through your nose during the contraction, then breathe out through your mouth when you relax. Proceed in the order described below.
- Calf: Stretch the toes upwards, towards the knees.
- Thighs (middle part and inner side): If you are sitting or standing, pull your heels towards the floor. If you are lying down, try to straighten your legs.
- Thighs (the outer side): Bring your knees together firmly.
- The buttocks: tense the muscles that make up the buttocks by squeezing them against each other.
- All legs: contract all the muscles in the legs.
Step 3. Relax the muscles of the heart
Keep breathing at a steady pace as you contract and relax your stomach and back. Remember to take a 10 second break between stress-trigger cycles.
- Stomach: Imagine trying to bring your belly button closer to your spine.
- Lower back: Arch your back while contracting the muscles just above the buttocks.
Step 4. Focus on your upper back and chest
By now you should be feeling very relaxed. The rhythm of your breathing should be slow and steady. Remember to keep the muscles tight for 5 seconds and then release them.
- Chest: Take a deep breath, then hold your breath to contract your pectoral muscles.
- Upper back: pull your shoulder blades back as if trying to pull them together.
Step 5. Focus on the shoulder and neck muscles
Raise your shoulders as if you are trying to bring them closer to the ears. At the same time, tilt your head back slightly to increase the contraction of the neck muscles. The tensions that build up in the neck and shoulders are a common cause of headaches and neck pain. Be aware, however, that you may need to cycle two or three consecutive cycles in order to relax these muscles.
Step 6. Continue with the arms
This part should be easier to relax now that your body is calm. Work your arm muscles and remember to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- The triceps: fully stretch your arms, locking the elbows.
- Biceps: Bend your arms to flex your biceps.
- Forearm: bend your hands down, as if trying to touch your elbows with your fingers.
- Hands: clench your fists.
Step 7. End the session by relaxing the muscles of the face
People tend to build up a lot of muscle tension in the face, especially in the jaw. Relaxing these muscles marks the end of the session and you should now be completely relaxed.
- Eyes and lips: make faces, press on your eyes while closing your eyelids, and close your mouth tightly.
- The jaw: open your mouth as much as possible.
- Cheeks: smile broadly.
- Forehead: Raise your eyebrows as much as possible.
Step 8. Relax
Now that you have completed all of these steps, rest for a few minutes. You can perform visualization exercises to take full advantage of this feeling of relaxation and calm, or if you have time, you can just go to sleep.
Part 4 of 4: doing guided visualization exercises
Step 1. Perform visualization exercises
Contract and relax muscles to help release tension from the body. By using guided visualization techniques, you can even relax your mind. These exercises can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and reduce fatigue.
- Before you begin, you can combine visualization exercises with diaphragmatic breathing to enter a state of relaxation.
- Otherwise, wait until you feel completely relaxed and start to imagine a safe and pleasant place to increase the benefits of this technique.
Step 2. Choose a special place
Think of a real or imaginary place that can make you feel safe and feel comfortable and happy. There is no such thing as a "bad" place. However, it is best to stick to your choice, as this will help you enter a state of relaxation more easily. The most common options are:
- a beach,
- a forest,
- the top of a mountain,
- a sunny park,
- a place you visited during the holidays,
- your favorite room in your current or former home.
Step 3. Imagine yourself in your special place
Feel the calm that follows as you imagine every detail. Use all of your senses, not just your sight. For example, if the place that makes you feel safe is a sunny one, you can focus on the following.
- The colors: green grass, the intense blue of the sky.
- The sounds: the buzz of bees, the birds singing, the sound of the wind in the leaves.
- The chills: the breeze on your skin, the heat of the sun on your face, the touch of the grass on your arms.
- The smells: the purity of the air with a touch of the scent of flowers and herbs.
Step 4. Let calm take your every thought
When a thought comes to your mind, don't try to fight it. Focus on the details of your special place.
- If you're having trouble getting rid of a thought, imagine watching it on a TV screen and picking up the remote to turn it off.
- Otherwise, imagine putting this thought in a drawer and closing it afterwards.
Step 5. Savor your quiet moment
You are completely relaxed, without wanting to find yourself somewhere else or doing anything else. Your mind and body relax perfectly.