Progressive Muscle Relaxation

I have used progressive muscle relation for many years now.  It has helped me greatly, especially when I'm tense or stressed out, trying to get to sleep or just trying to calm anxiety.  Here are some general guidelines:

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Set aside enough time (maybe 30 minutes at first) at a certain time of day for doing the exercises. When you first get up, before going to bed, before a meal are the best times. After eating is the worst time.

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Make sure you're comfortable: the room should be a comfortable temperature and quiet and free from interruptions. Your clothing should not be restrictive and your entire body should be supported. You can lie down with a pillow under your knees for extra support. Or you can sit in a chair but be sure your head is supported along with the rest of your body. *( Sitting may be preferable if you feel unsafe lying down because of your trauma. Whenever and however you position yourself.. be sure you feel safe)

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Write down anything that is really bothering you before you begin your relaxation.  That way if these thoughts "intrude" your relaxation process you can tell yourself, "I have written this down and I will deal with it later".  Try not to worry or think about outside events. Put them away for the time being. Also don't worry about your performance of the technique.. the goal is relaxation here--it's not a competitive sport.

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The idea is to tense a particular muscle group hard, but not so hard that you strain, for about 20 seconds and let go of it suddenly. You then give yourself 20 seconds to relax, noticing how the muscle group feels when relaxed in contrast to how it felt when tensed before going on to the next muscle group. You may want to say things like "I'm relaxing", "letting go" or anything that helps you remain focused on what you are working on. When your attention wanders bring it back to the particular muscle group you're working on.

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When you tense a particular muscle group, do so vigorously without straining, for 20 seconds.

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Concentrate on what's happening. Feel the buildup of tension in each particular muscle group. It's often helpful to visualize the particular muscle group being tensed.

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When you release the muscles, do so abruptly, then relax, enjoying the sudden feeling of limpness. Allow the relaxation to develop for at least  20 seconds before moving on the the next group of muscles.

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Allow all the other muscles to remain relaxed, as far as possible, while working on a particular muscle group.

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Tense and relax each muscle group once. But if a particular area feels especially tight, you can tense and relax it two or three times, waiting about 20 seconds between each cycle.

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Do these exercises slowly. No hyperventilating here.

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To begin: take three slow deep abdominal breaths, exhaling slowly each time. As you exhale imagine that tension throughout your body begin to flow away.  Breathe deeply throughout the entire exercise, hold your breath while you tighten and exhale slowly when you relax.

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Tighten your feet by curling your toes downward. Hold then relax.

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Tighten your calf muscles by pulling your toes toward you. (Flex carefully to avoid cramps) Hold then relax.

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Squeeze the muscles in your thighs from your knees up. (you will probably have to tightening your hips along with your thighs since the thigh muscles attach at the pelvis). Hold then relax.

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Tighten your buttocks by pulling them together. Hold then relax. Allow the muscles in your hips to go loose and limp.

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Tighten your lower back by arching it up. (omit this exercise if you have lower back pain) Hold and relax.

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Tighten your stomach muscles by sucking in your stomach. Hold then relax.

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Tighten the muscles of your chest by taking in a deep breath. Hold and then relax slowly. Imagine any excess tension in your chest flowing away with the exhalation.

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Clench your fists.  Hold  and then relax.

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Tighten your forearms. Hold then relax.

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Tighten your biceps by pulling your forearms toward your shoulders and "making a muscle" with both arms. Hold then relax.

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Tighten your triceps- the muscles on the undersides of your upper arms--by extending your arms straight out and locking your elbows. Hold then relax.

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Tighten the muscles around your shoulder blades by pushing your shoulder blades back as if you were going to touch them together. Hold  then relax. Since this area is often especially tense, you might want to repeat the tense-relax sequence twice, again waiting at least 20 seconds between each tensing.

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Tighten the muscles around your shoulders by raising them up as if you were going to touch your ears. Hold then relax.

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Tighten the muscles in the back of your neck by pulling your head way back as if you were going to touch your head to your back. (be slow with this muscle group to avoid injury, and never do it while standing, if you have a neck injury avoid this exercise).  Focus on the tensing and relaxing of the muscles in your neck. Hold then relax. Sometimes because this muscle group is especially tight, it's good to do the exercise twice.

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Turn your head slowly as far as you can to the right and hold and then to the left, hold and then relaxing. (do not use your hands to "pop" your neck in this exercise)

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Tighten your jaws by opening your mouth so widely that you stretch the muscles around the hinges of your jaw. Hold and relax. Let your lips part and allow your jaw to hang loose.

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Tense the muscles around your eyes by clenching your eyelids tightly shut. Hold then relax. Sense the deep relaxation spreading all around the area of your eyes.

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Tense the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows as far as you can. Hold then relax. Imagine your forehead muscles becoming smooth and limp as they relax.

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Take a few deep breaths and tune into the weight of your head sinking into whatever surface it is resting on.  Allow your neck muscles to completely relax.

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Mentally scan your body for any residual tension. If a particular area remains tense, repeat one or two sequences for that muscle group.

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Now imagine a wave of relaxation slowly spreading throughout your body, starting at your toes and gradually penetrating every muscle group all the way up to your head.  These are slow gentle waves, and anytime you sense tension in any of the muscle groups, stop and repeat the tensing and relaxation process.


I have found that when I'm tired and just can't sleep, I rarely make it all the way to my head before I'm sound asleep.  Hope this is helpful to you as well!








Many thanks to Jamie A. for her help with this article!

 

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