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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Woman lying on yoga matWhether you're performing an athletic feat or merely doing your job, the quality of your efforts depends in part on your ability to relax. There are a variety of relaxation techniques to choose from. Progressive relaxation yields a variety of benefits, including the development of a feeling of well-being, lowered blood pressure, decreased muscle tension, thereby reducing the body's need for oxygen and reducing fatigue and anxiety.

To profit fully from progressive relaxation, you have to create a habit of the process, which means you have to set aside time 3-5 times a week for relaxing. The nice thing about establishing a routine of relaxation is that it only requires 20 minutes and it can be done almost anywhere.

There are two basic parts to progressive relaxation: 1) the recognition of tension in muscles, and 2) the relaxation of each muscle group.


Muscle Tension Recognition  

The process for muscle tension recognition begins by assuming a comfortable position of lying down, sitting, or leaning back. You should be in a quiet area, away from distractions. Check for tension in each muscle group in your body: major tension areas include the shoulders, jaw and forehead. Since there is tension in every muscle group, progression in a logical order is required to recognize and alleviate tension.


Relaxation Process

As you focus on a muscle group, begin the relaxation process by tensing the muscle group; hold that tension for five seconds. Then relax your muscles slowly for 20-30 seconds so that the tension feels like it's draining from your body. As you perform the process, tell yourself to "feel the tension go", and "Let all the tension drain slowly from the muscle." Tension of a muscle group followed by a relaxation of those muscles can be repeated several times before moving on to the next muscle group. Throughout the full exercise, breathe at a steady rate.

Follow this progression:

  1. Chest - Take a deep breath. Beginning with the abdominal area, fill the lungs with air while feeling the tension in the chest area from the" expanded lungs. Expire from the top of your lungs t6 your abdomen while relaxing.

  2. Right foot and lower leg - Keeping the heel down, curl the toes back until tension can be felt in the ankle and calf muscle.

  3. Right upper leg - Tense the top of the upper leg (quadraceps) and the bottom of the upper leg (hamstring).

  4. Left foot, lower leg and upper leg - Repeat the process identified in numbers 2 and 3.

  5. Right hand and forearm - With the palm down, lift the hand until tension can be felt in the top of the hand, the wrist and the forearm.

  6. Right upper arm - Tense the bicep and tricep.

  7. Right shoulder - Shrug the shoulder toward the ear and roll the head toward the shoulder so that shoulder and ear are touching.

  8. Left hand and forearm, upper arm and shoulder - Repeat the process identified in numbers 5, 6 and 7.

  9. Jaw area - Without damaging the teeth, bite down until tension can be felt in the jaw area.

  10. Mouth - Purse the lips as if whistling.

  11. Chin - Place the bottom of the tongue on the roof of the mouth and push upward.

  12. Forehead - Wrinkle the brow.

As you begin the relaxation process, your body should feel heavy and warm. The feeling of heaviness will turn into a sensation of weightlessness as your body begins to relax. Typically, a cool band forms across the forehead as relaxation occurs. The feelings of weightlessness, warmness and a cool band across the forehead are all natural responses in the relaxation process. You will feel a sense of well-being if relaxation is achieved.

It takes several weeks to attain a full relaxation response, but you'll make progress daily as you acquire the skill of relaxing. There will be days where there are setbacks followed by days of great gains. Eventually, relaxation can be achieved in short period of time in any location.


This information has been approved by Shelby Jenkins, OTR and Chelsea Randall, MS, OTR/L (May 2012).