Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | November 17, 2010

Tried and True Technique: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

The point is to clench, then relax your muscles and notice the difference

My grandmother taught me Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) when I was 7 years old to help me fall asleep.  30+ years and one doctorate in psychology later, I still believe it’s one of the best methods for learning how to relax.

Rationale:  It is not physically possible to have a feeling of warmth, well-being, and relaxation in your body while experiencing emotional/psychological stress.

 What it does:  Progressive muscle relaxation reduces pulse rate, blood pressure and decreases perspiration and respiration rates.

 Who should use it:  All of us can benefit from a lifestyle that involves more relaxation.  However, Progressive muscle relaxation is particularly useful for the following problems:  Insomnia, depression, anxiety, muscle tension, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle spasms, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, phobias, and stuttering.

Who should NOT use it:  Anyone with low blood pressure, for sure, because PMR could cause you to faint!  Or, if you have any concerns about how PMR might affect a physical condition, check with your doctor!

 Time to Truly Master:  Two 15 minutes sessions per day for one to two weeks.

 Which Muscles?  Do you know which of your muscles are chronically tense?  Some do, but most people don’t.  One thing Progressive Muscle relaxation will teach you is how to tell the difference between the sensation of tension and the sensation of deep relaxation.  We will cover four major muscle groups:

 1. Head, face, throat and shoulders

2. Biceps, forearms, hands

3. Chest, Stomach, Lower Back

4. Thighs, buttocks, calves, feet

 Basic Instructions:  You need 10-20 undisturbed minutes.  You can sit or lie down. You might play some soothing music or have complete silence.  Don’t worry if your mind wanders or if thoughts intrude during the process, this is normal.  You just have to keep working to bring yourself back into the present.  Over time and practice, these intrusions should become less frequent.

 You will be quickly tensing each muscle group for 5 to 7 seconds, quickly releasing and then relaxing for 20 to 30 seconds.  You might do abdominal breathing in between muscle groups, focus on a pleasant scene, and/or recite a self soothing statement such as, “I am calm,”  You could also use a comforting Bible verse (i.e. “The Lord is my Shepherd….”)

 Example:  Clench your two fists as tight as you can, hold it, hold it, hold it, notice the tension in your wrist.  Quickly let it go.  Feel the looseness in your hands and wrists, notice how different it feels from when you had it tensed.  Repeat one more time.

Give it a try!!!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee

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