Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that is used to effectively manage stress and anxiety, chronic pain, and relieve insomnia. Progressive muscle relaxation simply involves tensing and tightening one muscle group at a time, followed by a period of relaxing the same muscle group.
The practice, along with other mindfulness practices such as yoga, is based on the theory that physical relaxation invites mental calm. Progressive muscle relaxation can provide relief in a relatively short period of time, depending on how many muscle groups you work with.
It is recommended to begin with the lower extremities, working the way up the body to the hips, abdomen, chest, neck and head. Knowing the proper names of the muscles is not required; you can simply tense general categories such as calf, thigh, lower arm, upper arm.
Here is a general outline to practice:
To begin: Find a comfortable position, seated or lying down.
Next: Inhale, while contracting one muscle group (such as the feet) for five to 10 seconds, then exhale while slowly releasing tension in that muscle group. Bring awareness to the sensations you feel as these muscles relax.
Continue: Gradually work your way up the body, contracting and relaxing muscle groups.
Don’t forget: The head and face. The jaw is a common area of tension often overlooked. It is also soothing to relax the eyes and forehead (releasing the furrow in the brow).
It is not necessary to complete a whole body practice to enjoy the benefits of progressive muscle relaxation. Focus on those areas you commonly feel tension or tightness. Practicing PMR can provide a much needed brain break throughout the workday. Children also benefit from and enjoy this practice.