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What is progressive muscle relaxation?

As everyday stress builds up, your muscles tend to tighten up, which can add to your distraction and stress. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves flexing and relaxing your muscles to help relieve some of the physical stress that builds up in them. Starting at the bottom of your body, tense the muscles of your feet and then relax them. Work through the different muscle groups of your body one at a time -- your legs, stomach, back, neck, arms, face and head. And breathe.

Dawn Marcus
Neurology
Progressive muscle relaxation consists of alternatively contracting and relaxing muscles throughout your body.
  • Close your eyes and practice tensing and then relaxing individual muscles in different parts of your body, starting at your feet and moving toward your neck and face.
  • Hold the tension for 10-15 seconds and then release it.
  • Tense and release the muscles in your legs, and then abdomen, arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, eyes, and finally forehead.
  • Focus on how the muscles feel when they are no longer tensed.
  • When you are familiar with this exercise, you will begin to recognize when your muscles are unusually tense, even if you don't feel "stressed." For example, you might notice jaw and neck tightness when sitting in traffic or waiting in a line at the store. When you become aware of this tightness, work to relax it as you do during your quiet training sessions.
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The following are the steps involved in a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

  •  Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Start with the muscles in your face, working your way down to your feet and toes.
  • Inhale. Raise your eyebrows. Tense them. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your eyebrows. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Open your mouth and eyes wide. Then close your mouth and eyes tightly. Squeeze. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your eyes and mouth. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Bite down on your teeth. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your jaw. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Pull your shoulders up. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your shoulders. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Tense all the muscles in your arms. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your arms. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Tense all the muscles in your chest and abdomen. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your chest and abdomen. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Tense all the muscles in your legs. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your legs. Exhale.
  • Inhale. Tense all the muscles in your feet. Curl your toes. Hold for a count of 3. Relax your feet. Exhale.
  •  Inhale. Exhale any tension that may be lingering in your body.
  • Breathe in energy. Take several more deep, slow breaths. Enjoy feeling relaxed.
  • Gradually open your eyes.
Harris H. McIlwain, MD
Rheumatology
Also known as deep muscle relaxation, this mind/body exercise involves concentrating on different muscle groups as you contract then relax all of major muscle groups in the body, beginning with head, neck, arms, chest, back, stomach, pelvis, legs and feet. To do this exercise, focus on each set of muscles, tense these muscles to the count of 10, then release to the count of 10. Along with progressive muscle relaxation, it is important to perform the deep abdominal breathing, breathing in while tensing the muscles, and breathing out or exhaling while relaxing them.
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Progressive muscle relaxation involves concentrating on different muscle groups as you relax. This mindfulness, or focusing all attention on what you feel from moment to moment, can help you move beyond destructive habits as you become centered in a world of health and inner peace. 

Lying comfortably on your back in a peaceful environment, contract then relax all of major muscle groups in the body. Start with your head, neck, shoulders, and arms, and tense these muscles to the slow count of 10, then release them slowly to the count of 10. Now progress to your chest, back, stomach, pelvis, legs, and feet, again tensing and releasing the muscles to the slow count of 10.

Studies show that when you can create a strong mental image using this type of relaxation technique, you actually feel "removed" from cumbersome stress and negative emotions. You can do progressive muscle relaxation with or without music, and it is important to do it with deep abdominal breathing, focusing on your breath.  Breathe in while tensing the muscles; breathe out or exhale while relaxing them.
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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.