Relaxation Guide for those who are tense
Instructions: Many people find that their bodies are tense and they are experiencing muscle aches/pains. The following exercises may help reduce your level of body tension and have been shown in the scientific literature to be effective when anxiety visits, particularly for those who have body tension and headaches. There are two exercises which you may like to record onto a tape or CD so you can play them to yourself. Both are classic techniques with a 30+ year history of effectiveness!
Find a comfortable position in a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed. You may wish to sit with your head supported or lie down. You may want to loosen your clothing and remove your shoes. If you are wearing glasses take them off. Softly close your eyes.
Note the level of tension you’re feeling. Then place one hand on your abdomen right beneath your rib cage.
Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the “bottom” of your lungs – send the air as low down as you can. If you’re breathing from your abdomen, your hand should actually rise. Your chest should move only slightly while your abdomen expands.
When you’ve taken in a full breath, pause for a moment and then exhale slowly through your nose or mouth, depending on your preference. Be sure to exhale fully. As you exhale, allow your whole body to just let go.
Now do ten slow, full abdominal breaths. Try to keep your breathing smooth and regular, without gulping in a big breath or letting your breath out all at once. It will help to slow down your breathing if you slowly count to four on the inhale (1-2-3-4) and then slowly count to four on the exhale (1-2-3-4). Remember to pause briefly at the end of each inhalation. Count from ten down to one counting backwards one number with each exhalation. The process should go like this: Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“ten”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“nine”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“eight”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“seven”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“six”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“five”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“four”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“three”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“two”) Slow inhale … Pause … Slow exhale (“one”)
Progressive muscle relaxation
Next we are going to turn attention to your muscles. As we go try to keep your eyes closed and focus your attention on just one muscle group at a time. This procedure will familiarize you with the muscles in your body which are most commonly tense. It will also help be more in your body not just in your head.
Take in a deep breath and hold it… now breathe out slowly… take in another deep breath and hold it… and now relax… just continue to breathe naturally and pay attention to the way your body feels as you breathe… (3 breaths silence) … notice how your relaxation increases each time you breathe out… becoming more and more relaxed as you let the air go … (4 breaths)
Now clench both your fists, tighter and tighter, studying the tension as you do so. Keep them clenched and notice the tension in your fists, hands and forearms. Now relax. Let the tension dissolve away. Feel the looseness in your hands, and notice the contrast with the tension.
Now again clench both your fists, tighter and tighter, studying the tension as you do so. Keep them clenched and notice the tension in your fists, hands and forearms. Now relax. Noticing as you relax that this is the opposite of tension – relax and feel the difference. Throw away the tension, feel the looseness and relaxation.
Now bend both your elbows and tense your biceps. Tense them as hard as you can and observe the feeling of tautness. Relax and straighten out your arms. Let the relaxation develop and feel that difference. Let go of the tension, let it dissolve away.
Now again bend both your elbows and tense your biceps. Tense them as hard as you can and observe the feeling of tautness. Relax, straighten out your arms. Let the relaxation develop and feel that difference. Your arms should be feeling relaxed and rested.
Turning attention to your head, wrinkle your forehead as tight as you can. Now relax and smooth it out. Let yourself imagine your entire forehead and scalp becoming smooth and at rest. Now frown and notice the strain spreading throughout your forehead. Let go. Allow your brow to become smooth again. Squint your eyes now, squint them tighter. Look for the tension. Relax your eyes. Let them remain closed gently and comfortably. Now clench your jaw, bite hard, notice the tension throughout your jaw. Relax your jaw. When the jaw is relaxed your lips will be slightly parted.
Let yourself really appreciate the contrast between tension and relaxation. Now press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Feel the ache in the back of your mouth. Relax. Press your lips now, purse them into an ‘O’. Relax your lips. Notice that your forehead, scalp, eyes, jaw, tongue, and lips are all relaxed.
Press your head back as far as it can comfortably go and observe the tension in your neck. Roll it to the right and feel the changing locus of stress, roll it to the left. Straighten your head and bring it forward, press your chin against your chest. Feel the tension in your throat and the back of your neck. Relax, allowing your head to return to a comfortable position. Let the relaxation deepen. Now shrug your shoulders. Keep the tension as you hunch your head down between your shoulders. Relax your shoulders. Drop them back and feel the relaxation spreading through your neck, throat and shoulders, pure relaxation, deeper and deeper.
Give your entire body a chance to relax. Feel the comfort and heaviness. Now breathe in and fill your lungs completely. Hold your breath. Notice the tension. Now exhale. Let your chest become loose. Continue relaxing, letting your breath come freely and gently. Repeat this several times, noticing the tension draining from your body as you exhale. Next, tighten your stomach and hold. Note the tension, then relax. Now rest your hand on your stomach. Breathe deeply into your stomach, feel it pushing your hand up. Hold and relax. Feel the contrast of relaxation as the air rushes out. Now arch your back, without straining. Keep the rest of your body as relaxed as possible. Focus on the tension in your lower back. Now relax, deeper and deeper.
Tighten your buttocks and thighs. Flex your thighs by pressing down your heels as hard as you can. Relax and feel the difference. Now curl your toes downward, making your calves tense. Study the tension. Relax. Now bend your toes toward your face, creating tension in your shins. Relax again.
Feel the heaviness throughout your lower body as the relaxation deepens. Relax your feet, ankles, calves, shins, knees, thighs, and buttocks. Now let the relaxation spread to your stomach, lower back, and chest. Let go more and more. Experience the relaxation deepening in your shoulders, arms, and hands. Deeper and deeper. Notice the feeling of looseness and relaxation in your neck, jaws, and all of your facial muscles… Continue to breathe slowly and deeply. Your entire body is comfortably loose and relaxed, calm and rested.
- Carlson, C., & Hoyle, R. (1993). Efficacy of abbreviated progressive muscle relaxation training: A quantitative review of behavioural medicine research. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 1059-1067.