What Is Progressive Relaxation?

What Is Progressive Relaxation?

Progressive Relaxation, also known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, was created in the 1920s by a doctor named Edmund Jacobson.  He theorized that stress and anxiety in our lives causes our muscles to tense up and by using a specific technique to relax the different muscle groups, we can actually force our bodies to be loose, which in turn makes staying stressful or anxious very difficult. 

The technique is not difficult.  In fact, it is still in use and led to biofeedback therapy, which is also used quite extensively today.  The steps of the Progressive Relaxation technique basically make us go through different muscle groups, in a progressive fashion, tense them and then fully relax them. This allows us to become more aware of how muscles feel when they are tense, in comparison with how muscles feel when they are relaxed.  As we become more aware of how our muscles feel, we can then more easily keep them relaxed for a longer period of time. 

The steps to practice the technique are simple:

  • Find a comfortable position in a quiet room.  You can either be sitting down, reclining or laying down. Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing as well.
  • Willfully tune out the external environment.  Make yourself feel very calm.
  • In the order listed below, tense each muscle, hold for five seconds, and then fully relax. 
  • Breathe in slowly as you are tensing and breathe out while you’re holding the muscle tense. Consciously relax the muscle quickly. 
  • Once you relax the muscle, take about ten seconds and allow yourself to feel the looseness in the muscles so you can fully understand how your own muscles feel.
  • Follow this order:  

o   Wrinkle your forehead by lifting your eyebrows

o   Close your eyes tightly

o   Widening your mouth, smile or grimace as hard as you can

o   Pucker your lips together without tensing your cheeks or jaw.

o   Press your head hard against your support to tighten your neck muscles

o   Extend your arms out front and clench your fists hard

o   Keeping your arms extended, push out as hard as you can while bending your hands back

o   Bend your elbows and tense your biceps

o   Shrug your shoulders hard

o   Arch your back away from your support

o   Flex your stomach muscles and abs

o   Tighten the buttocks

o   Press your legs together as hard as possible

o   Pull your toes up and push your heels away from you

o   Curl your toes hard away from you

  • Bring yourself slowly back to the present.

If you still feel tension in the muscles, you can work on that specific muscle group without having to go through the entire exercise. 

**Helpful hint:  Although you should tense the muscles hard, if you feel shooting or intense pain, relax a little.  You are tensing too hard.

As you get used to the exercise, you can shorten it by doing major muscle groups together.  For example, you can do the hands and biceps together.  Or do the forehead, smile and neck together.  As you get better and better at forcing your muscles to relax, you’ll be able to instantly relax a muscle as it starts to tense up.  

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