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What is relaxation therapy (RT)?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Gastroenterology
Relaxation therapy is a technique that helps people to be more relaxed when confronted by pain or a stressful situation. Therapists use a variety of methods, including progressive muscle relaxation, mental imaging, music, and even aromas, to induce a natural state of relaxation. During and after relaxation, thoughts begin to flow slowly and naturally, muscle tension diminishes, and breathing slows and becomes deeper and more regular. This allows the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system to take over. The result? The body can relax.

Relaxation therapy (RT) is a mind-body therapy that is used to calm your mind and body. You may practice relaxation therapy on your own, with the help of someone else or you may use an audio recording. The goal of this therapy is to relax by focusing on a body sensation or muscle. Over time, you may learn how to tell when there are times of stress in your daily life. You may learn healthy ways to cope during these times. The following are types of RT:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation: With this therapy, you are taught to relax by tensing (tightening up) and then releasing (loosening) your muscles. This is often done starting at one end of your body and going to the other, such as from your feet to your head. With practice over time, it may get easier to relax your muscles. Someone may teach you how to do progressive muscle relaxation, and then you may use a recording of the exercise at home.
  • Autogenic training or self-control relaxation: This therapy is used to help you increase blood flow to your legs and arms. With autogenic training, you try to make parts of your body feel heavy, warm or cool. You imagine a peaceful place and comforting feelings.
  • Beathing retraining: This may be paced respiration or deep breathing. Paced respiration teaches you how to breathe slowly when you are anxious or nervous. With deep breathing, you take a deep breath, hold it for five seconds and then breathe out slowly. This is done many times.

Relaxation therapy consists of techniques primarily aimed at decreasing physical and mental tensions. These include muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, autogenic training, guided imagery, meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis, Zen, yoga, and other mind-body therapies.

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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.