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Monday, July 18, 2011

Progressive Relaxation Technique

Sometimes we don't have time to engage in one of our favorite activities for creating inner peace.  Kayaking on the Palmer River shown in this photo is a delight for me.  But life usually happens on the run and requires "easy to use - while on the go" techniques.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation is one of those easy to access and use mind/body interventions.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a method for mentally rebooting and reducing tension by progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles.  Credit goes to an American physician during the 1920’s by the name of Edmund Jacobson.  Jacobson figured that since muscular tension coincided with stress and anxiety, a focus on relaxing muscular tension would reduce anxiety. 

Some folk prefer this method because it primarily focuses on the body sensations and is more active than the more internal and mental techniques.  Physically you tense and relax muscle groups over the legs, abdomen, chest, arms and face.   Focus on a muscle group and tense for ten seconds and then release for twenty before continuing with the next muscle group.

It is helpful to close your eyes to center your focus on the sensations of tension and release.  If your anxiety is high and thoughts plague you like, “this will never work!”  Gently return your focus to the sensation of the muscular tension and release.  Usually, you will experience a feeling of warmth or heaviness in the body that will also result in a more relaxed mind.

The following script was designed for college age kids and tends to be shorter.  For a longer script that begins with the feet and moves toward the head clink on this link.

The Recipe
1.  Scan you body areas for tension.

2.  Inhale deeply.  Hold your breath for a few seconds.  As you exhale, allow the tension to leave your body.

3.  Clench right fist, notice tension in fist, hand, and forearm.  Relax – feel the looseness in your right hand.

4.  Clench left fist.  Tight.  Tighter!  Now, gently release.  Feel the tension leave your hand.

5.  Clench both fists.  Clench them tightly.  Now relax.  Let the tension flow out of your hands.

6.  Bend elbows, tense biceps; now straighten out your arms, and relax.

7.  Bend your elbows again, now release and relax.

8.  Turn your attention to your head; wrinkle your forehead as tight as you can.  Now relax, smooth it out, imagine your forehead and scalp becoming smooth and at rest.  Now frown and feel the strain throughout your face ad brow; allow your brow to become smooth again.  Breathe deeply, fill your lungs full and enjoy the healthy feeling.

9.  Continue practicing progressive relaxation with all the major muscle groups in your body.

My Experience
I ran across this technique during my college years (decades ago).  My struggle with this technique back then was finding the patience to stick with it to the end (particularly with the longer script).  Today, I might add relaxation (brainwave music) sounds alongside this technique to enhance relaxation of both the body and the mind. 

This technique works well with folk who are more kinesthetic in their learning style or who need to be “doing something physical” in order to relax.  When the internal/mental techniques fail to work, give Progressive Relaxation a try!