How should I do progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple, easy-to-learn technique that will help increase your sense of calm within 15 to 20 minutes. The technique involves successive tensing and relaxing of each muscle group in the body.

While practicing progressive muscle relaxation, remember to follow these guidelines:
  • Tense each muscle group tightly, without straining for 7 to 10 seconds.
  • Release the muscles abruptly.
  • Rest for 15 to 20 seconds before moving on to another muscle group.
  • Stop if you feel pain.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply from the abdomen.
Work on each muscle group in the following order, resting between each group. (These exercises can be performed while sitting or lying down.)
  • Clench your fists. Hold and release.
  • Tighten your biceps (the muscles in your upper arms) by making a muscle. Hold and release.
  • Tighten the muscles in your forearms by extending arms straight and locking your elbows. Hold and release.
  • Tense the muscles of the forehead by raising your eyebrows. Hold and release.
  • Clench eyelids tightly shut. Hold and release.
  • Open your mouth as wide as you can. Hold and release.
  • Look up to the sky to tense the muscles in the back of the neck. Hold and release.
  • Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold and release.
  • Tighten the muscles of your upper back by pressing your shoulder blades together. Hold and release.
  • Tighten chest muscles by taking a deep breath and holding it for 7 to 10 seconds. Hold and release.
  • Tighten stomach muscles by pulling your belly button toward lower back. Hold and release.
  • Arch your lower back. Hold and release.
  • Contract the buttock muscles. Hold and release.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to tense up your muscle and then release into relaxation.  The best way to describe this process would be to start at your feet and work your way up to your head.  Start in seated or laying.  Start with your feet, tense for a solid ten seconds and then release for ten seconds, next move to your calves; complete a tension for ten seconds and relaxation for ten seconds.  Continue this process all the way up through your neck into your head and once completed, your body should feel rejuvenated and relaxed.

You can practice progressive muscle relaxation in any quiet space. Sit or lie down (on your back or side) in a comfortable position. But, be warned -- if you do progressive muscle relaxation exercises in bed, you may fall asleep before finishing a full cycle!

Take off your shoes before beginning. Loosen tight clothing.

To use this technique, you will be tensing a muscle or group of muscles by tightening or squeezing them firmly. Hold that tension, then release quickly and relax. Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and when they are relaxed.
  • Begin either at the top of your body, with your eyebrows, or at the bottom, with the toes and foot on your left or right side.
  • Inhale and focus on the individual muscle group as you tighten it. To tighten your foot, curl your toes in; for your hand, make a tight fist; for your eyebrows, raise them as high as they'll go.
  • Hold that squeeze for about five seconds.
  • Release and relax for about 30 seconds. If you have time, you may want to repeat each tension/release twice.
  • Wherever you began your exercise, continue from that point downward (or upward) so that your muscles are tensed and relaxed in order.
  • Do one foot (or hand) at a time. After completing the entire leg (or arm), then switch to the other side.
  • Continue with abdomen, chest, neck/shoulders and face.
  • After you've finished, breathe slowly and deeply a few times. As you exhale, release any remaining tension.
Enjoy the relaxed feeling for a minute or two before getting up.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.