“An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.”
— Dr. Edmund Jacobson
Muscle relaxation exercises involve turning your attention to various groups of muscles and relaxing them, until your entire body has entered into a deeply relaxed state. Some muscle relaxation exercises involve tensing each muscle group before relaxing it (to feel the contrasting states), and others use a combination of deep breathing and imagery, for example, envisioning healing energy entering each set of muscles to restore and relax them. The overall concept of progressive muscle relaxation was coined by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s, and is now a widely used practice to reduce stress. As is the case with other relaxation techniques, muscle relaxation becomes easier and more natural the more you practice it.
I use four main types of muscle relaxation in my recordings and classes: progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, body scan, and imagery-based muscle relaxation. In my guided relaxation sequencing, muscle relaxation occurs after the breathing exercises. These two steps are crucial to preparing the mind and body to enter into a deep state of relaxation.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a process in which you tense a certain muscle group and then completely release and relax those muscles, often repeating for each muscle group at least once to enhance the effect. You continue throughout your body, tensing and releasing muscles in each group to fully relax them. Whether you begin with the feet and work your way up to the head or vice versa, by the end of the process, your entire body is relaxed. A nice version of progressive muscle relaxation is on my album “Daydreaming by the Sea”.
Practicing the technique Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a fun, effective way to release muscle tension.
Autogenic Training is a relaxation technique developed by the German psychologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz. When practicing autogenic training, you develop a feeling of warmth and heaviness throughout the body, which leads to a profound state of relaxation. Although Schultz’s original autogenic training program can take months to master, I find that the key elements of this technique can be a highly effective component of a relaxation training session.
Do kittens practice Autogenic Training? Yes...yes they do.
Body Scan is a technique similar to progressive muscle relaxation, except that instead of tensing and relaxing muscles throughout your body, you simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body. The body scan can follow the same sequence as progressive muscle relaxation (focusing on different muscle groups or parts of the body). The goal of the body scan is being aware of your body, in the present moment, and is often associated with mindfulness meditation.
Imagery-Based Muscle Relaxation is a general term for techniques that involve visualizing or sensing things that are happening to your body, thus producing a relaxed response. For example, you could imagine waves washing over various parts of your body, leaving those muscles feeling wonderfully relaxed. You can find an imagery-based muscle relaxation called “Waves of Relaxation” on my album “A Time for Sleep”.