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Stress Management > 3. Progressive muscle relaxation
 

PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION

In this relaxation technique you will tense and then relax different specific muscle groups throughout your body one at a time. It has been found that it is easier for some people to tense their muscles before trying to relax them. This procedure is also designed to help you become more aware of the tension you carry in your muscles. If you have any injuries, pain, disability, or illness in your skeletal-muscular system, please consult your doctor before trying these exercises. Some of them could exacerbate your condition. I will ask you to tense a specific muscle group for 5 seconds, and then relax that muscle group for 15 seconds before going on to the next muscle group. While you are tensing the muscles, notice how this feels. As you practice you can learn to better identify the feelings of tension and thus take steps to relax these muscles. When you relax the muscle groups, allow the muscles to relax completely and abruptly. Allow them to go completely limp. If you relax your muscles gradually such as when you lower your arm gradually to the armrest or your lap, you leave tension in the muscles. When you are relaxing the muscle group, notice the pleasantness associated with the relaxation. With this exercise you may want to make an audio recording of the steps and then play it back. In this way you don't have to try to read and keep up with which muscle group to work on next while you are doing the exercises. Remember though, time your instructions so that you have time to tense the muscle group for 5 seconds and relax for 15 seconds before tensing the next muscle group.

1. Hold your right arm straight out in front of you and bend your hand upward pointing your fingers toward the ceiling. Hold that tension 5 seconds. Notice the tension. Now relax. Let your arm drop to your side and allow the muscles to go completely limp. Wait in this position for 15 seconds. Notice the pleasant, relaxed feelings in the muscles.

2. Hold your left arm straight out in front of you and bend your hand upward pointing your fingers toward the ceiling. Hold that tension 5 seconds. Now relax. Let your arm drop to your side and allow the muscles to go completely limp. Wait in this position for 15 seconds.

3. Hold your right arm straight out in front of you and make a tight fist. Now relax.

4. Raise both arms and touch your shoulders with your fingers. Tense your biceps. Now relax.

5. Shrug your shoulders, raise them as high as possible. Note the tension. Now relax.

6. Sit up straight in your chair. Arch your back. Bring your shoulder blades back and together. Now relax. Sit back in your chair.

7. Wrinkle your forehead. Make a frown. Notice the tension. Now relax. Make those muscles go completely smooth.

8. Close your eyes tightly. Relax. (If you wear contacts, your may want to remove them before doing this exercise.)

9. Press your tongue into the roof of your mouth. Relax. Let your tongue just float down on the bottom of your mouth.

10. Press your lips together tightly. Relax. Let your jaw go limp while keeping your lips closed.

11. Press your head backward, and, if no headrest is present, point your eyes toward the ceiling. Bring your head back to its normal position.

12. Press your head forward, burying your chin in your chest. Now relax. Bring your head back to its normal position.

13. Take a slow deep breath, expand your lungs, and hold it. Count to 5. Exhale slowly.

14. Suck in your stomach. Try to make it reach your spine. Relax.

15. Tense your stomach muscles as if preparing for a blow to the stomach. Relax.

16. Tense your buttocks by pulling them together. Relax.

17. Straighten your legs. Tense all the muscles in your legs. Hold them out in front of you if you are seated. Now let them go limp and fall to the floor.

18. Point your toes upward toward your face while keeping your feet on the ground. Note the tension in your calves. Relax.

19. Curl your toes downward inside your shoes as if burying them in the sand. Note the tension in the arches of your feet. Relax. Do not hold the tension very long on this one or you may get a cramp in your foot.


Now keep your eyes closed and count backward from 10 to 1. When you get to one you can open your eyes whenever you are ready.

Once you have learned to use progressive muscle relaxation, you can abbreviate the steps and procedures to use when you are going about your daily activities. In the next skill, body scanning, you will be asked to check your body tension during the course of your day. As you do so you can add a brief muscle tension and relaxation step to groups of muscles which feel especially tense. Many people carry tension in their shoulders, so you could shrug your shoulders for a couple of seconds and then let them go. If you experience tension in your neck, move your head forward, backward, and from side to side to stretch the muscles and allow them to relax.

Author: David W. Kidder, Ph.D.


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