There are many relaxation techniques. The best known is Progressive Neuromuscular Relaxation. It is based on the findings of the American scientist E. Jacobson, namely that stressful situations are usually accompanied by an increase in muscle tension, while in calm situations, the muscles are relaxed. Based on this finding he developed a relaxation method known as the Jacobson’s Progressive Neuromuscular Relaxation.
It is a process in which the person learns how to relax various muscle groups of their body. Through continuous cycles of tension and relaxation of these muscles, the person accurately observes how they feel both during tension and then during relaxation. They become more sensitive to the tension in their body, and learn how to release accumulated tension and relax.
Tension is the “starting point” of this technique, in which the person is asked to “tighten” a specific muscle group, as it is usually easier for them to increase muscle tension than to decrease it. They then notice all the sensations that accompany this tension and then let go of this tension all together, so that the relaxation that follows is progressively the greatest possible.
In the relaxation phase, the person is also asked to pay close attention to the sensations that accompany the reduction in muscle tension, as well as the difference between the two states.
Neuromuscular Relaxation is one of the most popular muscle relaxation methods because it is easy to learn and has proven to be very effective in dealing with anxiety states and phobias, psychosomatic problems, as well as in dealing with pain. In learning, the person concerned lies in bed or on a mattress on the floor and the therapist systematically leads them to tighten and relax various muscle groups.
What is the learning process in this method?
Learning progressive neuromuscular relaxation can be done in two ways:
- With the guidance of a therapist
- With self-taught learning
Muscle relax with the guidance of a therapist
In the classic way, it starts from the muscles of the legs and systematically goes up to the head, inviting the person to tighten one muscle group at a time, hold the tension for about 10 seconds, during which they are asked to observe all the sensations that accompany the tension, and then, to completely relax the specific muscle group, again noticing all the sensations that accompany the relaxation.
The main muscle groups are the following: the toes, the calves, the thigh muscles, the right and left hand muscles , the muscles of the arms, back, shoulder and neck and finally, the muscles in the chin, jaw and in general the face. However, the process can also begin by opening and closing the fist tightly, so that the muscles along the entire length of the hand are stretched. After a few seconds the fist relaxes and the person focuses on the feeling of relaxation transmitted through the muscles in the hand. The same process is then done with the other arm and systematically on other key muscle groups, such as the legs, abs, chest, shoulders and face.
It is also possible to start the process with whatever muscle groups the interested party considers “easier” and then proceed to other muscle groups.
A typical therapist’s guidance is as follows:
“Concentrate on your right hand… clench your right hand tightly into a fist… tighten your whole hand… notice the tension in the whole hand… notice that there is more and less tension in your hand… keep that tension… and now relax your hand… let all the tension out of your hand… even more… all the tension leaves the hand… the palm…. and all the fingers… even more so… feel where your hand has relaxed the most… notice the difference between tension and relaxation.”
The duration of the relaxation exercises at the beginning is about 10 minutes. Later, more muscle groups may be involved and the exercises may last 20 to 30 minutes. When the person is familiar with this method, they are able in a short period of time to tighten all the muscles at the same time and then relax them in the situation that causes them tension and anxiety.
This method is usually taught by specialized psychotherapists, on an individual or group level. However, a person who is really interested and highly motivated can attempt to learn it on a self-taught level, as long as they have persistence and patience, because like all skills, learning progressive muscle relaxation requires systematic practice.
Muscle relax by self-taught learning
Learning Progressive Neuromuscular Relaxation can be done without a therapist by following the steps below:
- Find a familiar place where you feel comfortable (e.g., bedroom, mattress on the terrace, sofa).
- Make sure the relaxation exercise is not interrupted (e.g., keep cell phone off, allow appropriate practice time)
- Wear comfortable clothes and set up the relaxation space appropriately, depending on your needs (e.g., scented candles, air conditioning, relaxing music).
- Make sure you are not under time pressure.
- Make sure you set some kind of alarm (e.g., cell phone) to wake you up in case you fall asleep during the relaxation exercise.
- You should not have consumed alcohol or have eaten before exercising.
- Make sure you have an “I’ll try” attitude, not an “I have to succeed!”
- Lie down in your well-designed intimate space.
- Close your eyes and focus all your attention on your body.
- Start with a muscle group that feels easiest to you, which is usually the dominant arm. Clench your hand tightly into a fist and allow yourself to feel the clenched hand for a few seconds. Then release your hand to let all the tension go. Again let yourself feel the relaxed hand and notice the difference between tightening and loosening. Repeat if you want the same exercise or move on to the other arm and then other muscle groups.
- Once the process is complete, it would be a good idea to stay for a while with your eyes closed before getting up.
- The application of the technique should be done at specific times, such as in the morning after waking up, before sleeping or before a meal. Following a consistent routine increases the likelihood of the technique’s results.
In what cases can progressive neuromuscular relaxation help?
It has been repeatedly proven by related research that progressive neuromuscular relaxation can help the person among other things:
- in dealing with stressful situations, as well as everyday fatigue.
- in improving memory and concentration.
- in increasing pain tolerance.
- in reducing the need to take sedatives.
- in dealing more effectively with the general effects of stress and avoiding overreaction.
- in reducing specific physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g., headaches).
- in preventing the onset of other anxiety disorders.
- in reducing the person’s need to smoke, drink alcohol or overeat.
- in being able to face stressful situations instead of avoiding them.