Progressive Muscle Relaxation

It is common for people to write into a diary their work tasks, social engagements, even sporting/fitness pursuits. These activity schedules provide people with a template of how their day will unfold. Oddly, people seldom add a specified time to sit and relax in their daily list of tasks. It is taken for granted that our brains and bodies are generally able to manage and regulate our stress hormone levels. However, for this system to work efficiently, it needs to be trained.

We know that a muscle that is unused will become weaker, we know that unpracticed skills will diminish over time and unused information will be forgotten. In contrast, we also know that regular workouts at the gym will help us to lift heavier objects, that learning new information builds on our previous understandings of issues and that skills that are routinely practised improve.

Relaxation is a skill. It can be practised, worked on and improved over time. On a physiological level, regular relaxation training and practicing stress relief exercises will increase your body and brains efficiency in becoming relaxed. Due to the way the human body is designed, when the relaxation systems are activated the stress related glands in the brain and torso withdraw.

Routine relaxation practice and stress relief exercises will help you achieve a stable balance between these two fundamental physiological structures and help you remain calm more often, reducing your tendency for psychological and physical illness.

Daily Progressive Muscle Relaxation / Stress Relief Exercise 1

This can be memorized, or you can record yourself reading these instructions and play it back with your own voice giving you directions.

If you find yourself distracted during the exercise, simply repeat the three deep breaths in step 3, and you will be able to continue the exercise easily.

NOTE: As this muscle relaxation and stress relief exercise requires your complete attention, make sure you practice your relaxation while doing no other activities (especially driving).

Also, please note that this type of exercise is not the best relaxation practice for people suffering with chronic pain or fibromyalgia. Other relaxation exercises for specific issues such as pain, self esteem, anger management etc… will be covered in future health tips.

(Complete over 15 minutes)

1. Let yourself sit in a comfortable position. You can lie down, however this can increase the likelihood that you will fall asleep.

2. Before you close your eyes, let yourself feel the weight of your body on the chair/bed/ground, and draw your attention to your breathing.

3. Let your eyes close, and complete three slow, deep breaths. Count these breaths, and when you inhale, say to yourself “in” and when you exhale say to yourself “out”. Now let your breathing just flow naturally.

4. Move your focus to your toes in both your left and right sides. Tense your toes and on your next exhale release the tension.

5. Move your focus to your feet, again, tensing and then releasing.

6. Do the same with your left and right calf muscles, thighs, hips and buttocks

7. Now you have made it to the centre of your body, let yourself become aware of the difference between your lower body and your upper body.

8. Focus on your abdomen, tensing as you inhale and releasing the muscles and all stress as you exhale.

9. Continue tensing and releasing as you move your attention across your chest, shoulders, upper arm, forearm, hands and fingers. By this stage only your head will be remaining.

10. Let your attention drift to your neck muscles, notice your jaw slacken slightly, lips become less tightly held together.

11. Tense and relax the muscles around your eyes, spread the muscles around your forehead and then the top of your head.

12. Spend a minute observing all the sensations in your body and thoughts in your head. Feel able to watch these thoughts and sensations without needing to engage. Some people do this naturally once in this relaxed state, while others imagine each thought/sensation as a diffuse cloud just passing through.

13. Give yourself a moment to experience the relaxation experience in its entirety. Remind yourself that you are getting better at this skill and that it is having an impact on your life, your day, and even your physiology

14. As you begin to return to normal daily functioning, open your eyes, stretch your arms and legs, take a couple of breaths and feel all the normal energy returning to your body.

15. Feel fully awake, appropriately for your situation, and have a great day.