Women with anxiety difficulties, busy schedules or those who have many children to look after, are often so stressed during the day that they are unable to identify what being relaxed feels like. People usually fail to notice when their back, shoulder or neck muscles are tense, although these are the most common areas of our bodies where tension is accumulated. Some people have been holding this tension for so long that they don't even notice it anymore.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a mind-body technique which main purpose is to reduce your overall stress levels, improve your sleep and help you relax until anxiety disappears. It is a two-step exercise which consists of tensing a muscle for a few seconds, and then slowly releasing it until a deeper level of relaxation is reached.
A positive feature of practicing PMR is that you will start developing an awareness of when your muscles are becoming tense and when they are completely relaxed. Once you are able to notice the first signs of muscle tension, you will have the chance to lower, or even eliminate it, before it evolves into physical discomforts such as muscle soreness, stress, headaches, stomachaches, and more.
Make sure you are feeling as comfortable as possible, situated in a sitting position. Put on some loose clothing and remove shoes and jewelry. Eliminate all distractions around you, such as smartphones, TVs, radios or even loudly ticking clocks. Sit up with your back straight and hands resting on the arms of the chair or in your lap, then close your eyes and let your body loosen up. Start the exercise with taking a few deep, relaxing breaths.
During the exercise
- Mind the difference in how muscles feel when they are relaxed as to the feeling when they are under pressure.
- If you have any injuries, do not tense the adjacent muscle groups.
- In case any pain or discomfort occurs, give up that muscle group and proceed to the next one.
What To Do
During the first two weeks, practice the exercise twice a day, so that you can master the technique faster and enjoy the results. You don't have to be anxious when you practice, quite the opposite actually. Being in a calm state will make it easier to get the hang of it, therefore apply what you have learned when feeling stressed.
The technique, described below, is the same for each of the muscle groups in your body.
The Technique: Tension
The first part of the technique is applying tension to a specific muscle in your body. Focus on it, then slowly take a deep breath, squeeze the muscle as much as you can and hold it for 5 seconds. You might even shake a bit, but it is essential to really feel the tension. If you feel that you are squeezing the surrounding muscles too — don't worry, it is absolutely normal at the early stages. As you progress, try to isolate and tense just the muscle you are focused on.
The Technique: Relaxing the Muscle
After holding the muscle tensed for 5 seconds, slowly exhale and relax it, letting all the pressure run out. The most important part of this whole exercise is to concentrate on and feel the difference between the state of tensity and the state of resting. You need to stay in the relaxed state for 15 seconds. You may proceed to the next muscle group then. A list with a detailed explanation about how to tense each one of your muscles you can read here.
At The End
It is easier to work your way from your legs up to the head. When you finish with all muscle groups, take a few minutes to empty your mind and enjoy the deep state of relaxation. Finish with counting backwards soundlessly from 3 to 1, where:
3 stands for becoming aware of the environment.
2 means moving your limbs and head.
1 is when you slowly open your eyes.
Daily practicing is the key to success. A normal PMR session usually takes up to 15 minutes to go through all muscle groups.
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