Progressive relaxation





This is a really great exercise to learn to distinguish between tensed and relaxed muscles. It has been around since 1929, founded by Edmund Jacobson, a Chicago physician. It is based on the premise that psychological stress tenses up the musculature, and therefore can be reduced by muscular release. This is probably my favorite off all my relaxation exercises, and the one I find most useful.





The exercise focuses you on the sensations of tension in each muscle, and then releasing that tension, focuses you on the sensations of relaxation in that muscle. You move progressively through the body one muscle, or muscle group, at a time.


There are three main methods. I recommend that you pick one method and stick to it throughout the whole exercise.


You may physically tense each muscle as you go along to increase your concentration & the sensations of tension and release.

1. You can tense as much as possible without hurting yourself (called active tensing), or

2. you can tense just enough to feel it (called threshold tensing). Threshold tensing is barely noticeable to the human eye.

3. You may also passively focus your awareness on the sensations (called passive tensing). This is simply noticing any tension without trying to change it.


You may also reverse the following procedure and start with your head working towards your toes. If you need to feel grounded, work crown to toe. If you enjoy floating work toe to crown. I also recommend that you audio record the instructions for yourself and listen to it as you relax. It is more effective then reading it. I haven't found any audio recordings online that are quite as thorough as these instructions are, so I made my own. Contact me if you would like a copy.


Preparation


It is best to lay down flat for this exercise. Do not cross your legs and leave your arms down by your side. I recommend you do the breathing preparation to begin. See breathing exercises.


Procedure


1. Toe. Notice any sensations in your right big toe. Feel any sensations of tension. Now notice and feel the tension in all of your toes on your right foot. Clench your toes of your right foot. Scrunch them up and feel the sensations of tension. Scrunch them tighter. Hold for count of three. Now breathe in and as you breathe out uncurl you toes. Breathe out all the way. Relax your toes. Notice the contrast between what was tense and what is now relaxed in your toes. Feel the sensations of relaxation in the toes of your right foot. Take another breath and relax again.


2. Ankle. Now notice the tension in your right arch and ankle. Flex and extend your ankle. Tighten your ankle and arch. Feel the sensations of tension. Feel the tautness. Hold for a count of three. Now breathe in and out. As you breathe out unclench your arch and ankle. Breathe out all the way. Relax your foot. Notice the contrast between what was tense and what is now relaxed in your right foot. Take another breath and relax again.


3. Calf. Move your awareness to you right calf. Notice any sensations there. Feel any tension. Flex and extend your ankles a couple of times feeling the stretch and pull to your calf muscles and your shin. Decide which direction gives you the greatest amount of tension (flexed or extended). Move in that direction and clinch your lower leg. Tighter still. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and release you calf. Release all that tension. Feel the tension melting and dissolving away. Relax your whole calf. Notice how heavy your calf feels in its relaxation. Feel how it settles. Take another breath and relax again.


4. Thigh. Move your awareness to your right knee. Notice any tension or pain in your knee. Notice any tension in your upper leg. Feel into your right Hamstring (the back of your upper leg). Press your right leg into the ground. Now feel into your right Quadrates Femoris (the front of your upper leg) as you lift the leg off the ground slightly. Let your leg down again. Continue to feel the tension. Feel into your outer thigh as your abduct your leg moving it slightly away from you. Feel your inner thigh as you press your thighs together. Release and feel the contrast. Feel the tension in your whole thigh. Clinch and tighten your thigh into whatever direction gives you the most tension. Clinch even tighter. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out. As you breathe out release the tension in your thigh. Feel the tension dissolve away. Notice the sensations of relaxation. Feel your leg become heavy and relax into the ground. Feel it settle. Take another breath and relax your thigh again. Even more relaxed. Feel relaxation filling your whole leg from thigh to toe. Relax.


5. Repeat 1-4 on the left leg.


6. Hips. Now move your awareness to your hips. Feel the tension in the right side of your hips where your right hip joint is. Rotate your hip in your hip socket. Rotate in a circle, reverse the circle and rotate the other way. Find the direction of greatest tension and press your leg into it. Notice your gluts. Feel any tension in the right gluteus. Find the greatest tension and press into it. Tense your right hip and right glut. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and release the tension from your hip. Relax and feel the tension dissolve away. Feel your hip heavy on the ground. Notice the sensations of relaxation and heaviness. Take another breath and relax again. Relax even more.


7. Repeat step 6 for the left hip and glut. Then notice the sensations of relaxation in both hips, both legs, both calves, both shins, both feet, all ten toes. Feel your legs relaxed and heavy.


8. Abdomen. Bring your awareness up to your abdomen. Notice any sensations in your digestive tract and abdominal organs. Feel into your stomach (on the left), your liver (on the right), your duodenum (down the middle). Feel your small intestines. Feel your colon. Notice any clinching in your anus. Now notice the muscles. Notice your Rectus Abdominus. Notice any tension in your oblique muscles (sides). Do a couple of small side bends and notice the tension in each side. Tense up your abdomen. Push out or pull in. Feel the sensations of tension. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and relax your abdomen. Take another deep breath and breathe all the way out. Relax. Feel the tension melting from your core. Notice the sensations of relaxation. Notice the relaxation in you organs. Notice the relaxation in your muscles. Feel relaxed. Breathe again and relax your core even more.


9. Back. Bring your awareness to your back. Feel your lower back. Feel your mid back. Feel your upper back. Feel the tension in your whole back. Breathe a deep breath in and notice the tension to your rib cage and middle back. Hold your breath and feel the tension fill you. Lengthen and elongate your core. Then scrunch up your core becoming compressed and small. Feel the contrast. Find the directions of greatest tensions. This is called “muscle loading”. Move front back, side to side, up down, in & out, rotate left and right. Pick all directions that cause you the greatest amount of tension and hold. Let the tension fill you. Tense even more. Hold the tension and notice the sensations for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and release all the tension in your back. Repeat tensing your back. This time just tense any way you want to. Feel the tension. Let it fill you. 1-2-3. Breathe in. Breathe out and release. Breathe again. Feel the tension drain all the way through your upper, middle and lower back. Feel your torso become heavy and sink into the ground. Feel it relax. Notice the sensations of relaxation as you continue to breathe and melt into the ground.


10. Upper Arm. Move you awareness to your shoulders. Feel the tension in your shoulder blades. Feel the tension in your right upper arm. Bend and straighten your right elbow. Feel the contrast to your right upper arm muscles. Feel the brachialis as your flex. Tense your brachialis, biceps and frontal arm muscles. Let the tension fill your arm. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out. As you breathe out release the tension in your arm. Feel the tension dissolve away. Now feel the tension in your right triceps and back of your arm. Press your right arm into the ground. Tense your tricep muscle all the way into your shoulder and arm pit. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and relax your upper arm. Feel the release in your whole upper arm, front and back. Feel the release in your shoulder. Notice the sensations of relaxation as you continue to breathe. Feel your arm become heavy and settle into the ground. Relax.


11. Lower arm. Move your awareness into your lower right arm. Flex and extend your right wrist. Feel the contrast in your muscles as you do so. Rotate your wrist in a circle and feel all the muscles of your lower arm. Tense your right lower arm. Feel brachioradialis tighten. Tighten it even more. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and relax your lower arm. Feel the sensations of relaxation fill your whole arm. Relax and let it feel heavy and settle into the ground. Breathe again and relax your whole arm.


12. Hand. Move to your right wrist, hand, and fingers. Feel the tension in your right hand. Clinch and unclench each finger. Notice the contrast. Clinch all your fingers and the palm of your right hand. Make a fist and clinch even tighter. Let the tension fill up your right hand. Hold 1-2-3. Breathe in. Breathe out and release your hand. Relax your hand into a natural position. Let the tension drain from your hand and dissolve away. Notice the sensations of relaxation in your right hand. Feel it release and relax.


13. Repeat steps 10-12 on your left arm and hand.


14. Chest. Bring your awareness to your chest. Feel any tightness around your heart space. Feel any tension in your pectoral muscles. Feel any tension in your anterior neck muscles. For this next part, don’t actively tense your chest if you have high blood pressure or other heart conditions. Just passive tense, where you notice the sensations without increasing the tension. For those with no heart problems you may continue to active tense. Tense your chest. Hold your breath and tense even tighter. Breathe again and after you exhale hold your breath. Let that tension fill you up. Release. Tense your chest cavity again. Hold for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax your chest, pecs, and heart space. Breathe again. Notice the sensations of relaxation in your chest. Take another deep breath and release any more tension still lingering there. Let it all drain from your chest and wash away.


15. Throat & Jaw. Bring your awareness to your jaw. Feel the tightness there. Clinch you teeth. Now open your jaw. Forcefully open your mouth as wide as it will go. Feel the contrast between the two extremes. Find the greatest direction of tension and tighten your jaw. Let the tension fill your jaw. Hold the tension for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and relax your jaw. Let the tension drain and dissolve away. Relax your jaw. Relax your cheeks. Breathe again and relax even more.


16. Nose & Lips. Now tighten your nose and lips. Purse your lips. Scrunch up your nose as tight as you can. Now stretch your nose and upper lip, opening your mouth and eyes and stretch all your face muscles. Notice the contrast. Move into the direction of greatest tension. Tense up. Feel the tension for a count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out and release your face. Feel the sensations of relaxation as the tension drains away. Relax again and let the tension dissolve.


17. Eyes & Forehead. Now notice your eyes. Open your eyes wide and lift your eyebrows as high as they will go. Elongate your whole face. Feel the sensations of elongation. Hold for a count of three then release. Breathe and relax. Now squeeze your eyes shut. Scrunch up your forehead. Feel the tension in your whole face and as you compress your face as tight as you can. Hold this tension for the count of three. Breathe in and out and relax your eyes and forehead. Feel the tension drain away in your whole face. Feel your face settle into relaxation. Breathe again and relax your face even more.


18. Neck & Skull. Bring your awareness now to the back of your neck. Feel the tension there in your neck muscles from shoulders to skull. Side bend your head to the right, now to left. Rotate right. Rotate Left. Nod and then extend your neck. Feel the contrast in the muscles. Feel the sensations of tension there. Clinch your neck into the directions of greatest tension, muscle loading your neck. Hold this tension for the count of three. Breathe in. Breathe out. As you breathe out release all the tension in your neck. If you need to tense again into another position, do so. Hold then release. Notice the sensations of relaxation fill your neck all the way to the crown of your head. Feel your skull settle and relax. Feel your skull grow heavy on the ground. Breathe again and relax even more. Let all remaining tension drain out of your neck and skull. Feel relaxed.


19. Take a couple more deep cleansing breaths and let your whole body fill with heavy relaxation.