Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a great tool for relaxing and training yourself to find tension spots in your body. Your body tends to store extra tension in your muscles. The problem is, you may not even realize your muscles are tense. Most people don’t! This is why progressive muscle relaxation is so valuable. It helps you both recognize where you’re storing tension, and figure out how to release that tension. Some days, progressive muscle relaxation is even as good as a massage for me. Here’s how it works and how you can practice it at home.

The Steps of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation has two basic steps: tensing all your muscles, and then releasing the tension. It’s pretty basic, actually, but like certain yoga poses, the fact that it’s basic doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy. It takes time for you to even learn to tense all your muscle groups, let alone release all that tension!

When you first start practicing progressive muscle relaxation, you’ll have to be very intentional about targeting certain muscle groups. You can go either top-down or bottom-up, though I prefer bottom up. This is because I, like most people, store most of my tension in my back and shoulders. If I work on progressive muscle relaxation from my feet up, my shoulders are really ready to be released by the time I get to them. Whichever way you choose is fine, but it’s a good idea to stick with the same routine so that this process becomes natural and easy to you.

The first step in this process is to tense muscles, starting with a single muscle group. Try starting with your feet. Inhale and squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about eight seconds. You should really feel the tension, and you may even feel a twinge of pain because of how hard you’re contracting your muscles.

Next, you just let go of the tension. Exhale after the eight seconds is up, and release the muscles, letting them go totally limp. When you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to repeat the tension-relaxation procedure with each muscle group one more time, as you’ll probably notice more tension and more relaxation the second time around.

At first, you’ll want to practice progressive muscle relaxation with very specific muscle groups, separating, for instance, your hand from your forearm from your shoulders. You might find it hard at first to tense up your hand without tensing up your whole arm, but learning to distinguish between these muscles can be very helpful, so take your time. It should take you about ten minutes to get through your whole body and to attain a sense of physical relaxation that leads to mental relaxation.

After you’ve been practicing progressive muscle relaxation once or twice a day for a couple of weeks, you can shorten your practice and do it almost anywhere. In a shortened practice, you can tense and release all of your lower limbs before moving to your abs and chest; and arms, neck, and shoulders. This shorter schedule means you don’t have to devote as much time to progressive muscle relaxation, but since you’re already good at it, you’ll still feel the benefits.

One thing to note is that you should be in a comfortable position and place when first practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Lying on your bed in the morning and in the evening is ideal, though different people have different preferences. Once you’ve perfected your practice, you’ll be able to do the shortened form of progressive muscle relaxation almost anywhere, so you can release physical tension at any time.