Progressive Muscle Relaxation

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In today's post, we are going to see a few techniques on Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Breathing.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a very popular relaxation technique involving a series of exercises in which you first tense a particular muscle group and then relax it.

The alternating phases make you aware of how different your muscles feel when they’re tense versus when they are relaxed. People who use PMR (like me) report that the exercises help alert them to muscle tension early on, before it becomes intense and more difficult to undo.

The series of exercises take about 15 to 20 minutes initially.

At the beginning, PMR involves alternately tensing and relaxing a large number of muscle groups, one at a time. Once you become better at achieving a relaxed state, you can move to a shorter version of PMR that involves tensing and relaxing several muscle groups at once.

At the end of this post, you will find the two versions of this technique: the long version and the short version. You will find a printable PDF attached. It is used to keep a record of your anxiety and progress.

My recommendation is that for the first two weeks you listen to the longer version (or if you don’t do it every day, I would recommend listening to it at least 14 days) before moving to the shorter version.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  1. Complete the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Progress Form (at the end of the post) for each relaxation practice. Before each practice, rate your level of anxiety from 0 (no anxiety) to 100 (worst imaginable anxiety). After the practice, record your anxiety or tension level again, using the same scale. Keep a record of these ratings to follow your progress (I recommend you do this step for at least one month).
  2. There are a few steps you can take to increase your level of relaxation, especially in the first few practices. Be sure to practice with your eyes closed while sitting in a comfortable chair. Turn off the telephone (or put it on silence mode), dim the lights, and wear comfortable clothes with a loose collar. After a few weeks of practice, you do not have to go to these lengths – after all, the long-term goal is to be able to feel relaxed no matter where you are or what you wear.
  3. Once you become more comfortable conducting the relaxation exercises while listening to the script, try going through the exercises without listening to it. This will require you to memorize the exercises, though you do not have to do them in exactly the same order as they are in the script. Performing these exercises without listening to the script will help you to relax on your own.
  4. As you move through the exercises, try to stay focused on your muscles, your breathing, and your state of relaxation. If any other thoughts pop into your mind, just let them go. Don’t fight your thoughts or feelings. Be aware of them, and then let them go.
  5. If there are sounds in the room, such as the buzzing of lights or traffic noise in the distance, just them let go as well. Gently bring your attention back to the exercise.
  6. Some people may feel increased anxiety or even panicky feelings early in the treatment, especially those who feel anxious when focusing on the feelings in their bodies. With practice, the exercises usually become more relaxing and less likely to trigger discomfort.

You should practice PMR regularly to get the most benefit. Learning to relax is a skill, just like learning to play the piano or learning to swim. Don’t expect it to work perfectly the first time. Just keep practicing. Most experts recommend practicing once or twice daily. Soon you will find that you are developing good control over your feelings of anxiety and tension.

After a few weeks of practicing the long form of this exercise, when you find it easier to become relaxed, try the shorter version. Again, keep a record of your anxiety, and once you are comfortable completing the exercises while listening to the instructions, try practicing without listening to it.


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