What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation
It is an easily learned relaxation technique that helps you learn what relaxed feels like physically, and helps you learn how to get to that state quickly and easily. Practice is key to this technique. The only thing you need to practice this technique is a place where you can comfortably lie down with enough room to stretch out and a willingness to learn. Learning the technique is easy. First lie down in a quiet place. The next step is to progressively contract then relax your muscles. I recommend starting with your toes and working up to your face.
Each time you contract a muscle group, hold it for about eight to ten seconds. It will be uncomfortable, sometimes a bit painful. Physical tension is usually uncomfortable and in direct opposition to relaxation. After eight to ten seconds let go of the tension. Notice how the muscle progressive muskelentspannung feels when the tension is gone, the pain is gone, the discomfort, twitching and stress is gone. With physical relaxation comes mental relaxation. You need to know what physical relaxation feels like if you want to stop tension and stress when they start, before they become difficult to manage. This is the order I recommend using when practicing systematic muscle relaxation.
- Left foot
- Left calf
- Left thigh
- Right foot
- Right calf
- Right thigh
- Left hand
- Left forearm
- Left upper arm and shoulder
- Right hand
- Right forearm
- Right upper arm and shoulder
- Abdominal and chest muscles
Slowly progress from one muscle group to the next. It may be difficult to contract and hold the contraction at first, but it will become easier with practice. You must recognize the physical sensation of tension in your own body. When you release the contraction you will learn what your body feels like when it is relaxed. This exercise teaches you to recognize when you are becoming tense and how to let go of the tension. The final piece to the puzzle is adding a cue to trigger the relaxation response.
Why Do You Need a Cue?
Have you ever heard of Pavlov’s dogs? A very famous psychological experiment studied the behavior of dogs salivating. First they offered the dogs food, which of course made them salivate. Next they offered the food while sounding a bell. The dogs still salivated. Finally the dogs just heard the bell, with no food. Guess what, those dogs still salivated because they associated the bell with food. This is what the cue is for. If you learn to relax with a certain song playing eventually that song will trigger the relaxation that you learned when going through the progressive muscle relaxation technique.
This song can be played when you know you will be in a stressful situation to help you relax, such as at the dentist or doctor’s office, in a traffic jam or before a big progressive muskelentspannung presentation. The cue can be anything you choose. It could be a sound, such as a song, a word or even a smell.
The strength of cues can be surprising. Have you ever heard a song, or smelled something that made you feel like you were back in another time of your life. These things are cues. By consciously adding a cue to your relaxation experience you give yourself a powerful tool to use in stressful situations to take control of your life.