Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Adapted from Edmond Jacobson, M.D.

Learning to relax one's body intentionally can make a significant difference in managing both physical tension and emotional anxiety. It is difficult to feel anxious or frightened when one's body is deeply relaxed. Practice this skill daily, in a time and place without interruption. Wear loose, comfortable clothing that doesn’t bind you, and find a comfortable position in a chair or on a flat surface, where all parts of your body are well supported. Extend your legs and let your arms lie easily by your side. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and take several deep abdominal breaths to calm and focus your mind.

Repeat each tensing and relaxing cycle twice with each muscle group described. Tighten each muscle group for seven seconds, then allow the muscles to relax for 20 seconds or more. Do this twice for each muscle group. Continue taking deep, slow abdominal breaths as you tighten and release each muscle group. Continue to repeat relaxing phrases such as "let go, relax" or "you are more deeply relaxed as you breathe freely and evenly."

Begin with your arms, clenching both hands tightly and making them into fists. Squeeze them tightly, noticing the muscles contracting and experiencing the tension in your hands. Then let go of the tension, let your hands relax and experience the sensation of relaxation as you continue to breathe freely and evenly. Notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation.

Bend both elbows and tighten your biceps. Squeeze your biceps together tightly, feel the contract and experience the tension. Then let go of the tension, and as before, notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation.

To tighten your triceps, straighten your arms and push down as hard as you can with the palm of your hand. Hold for seven seconds, release, breathe deeply.

Moving to your head, lift your eyebrows as high as you can and feel the tension in your forehead. Hold the tension, then let your brow drop and smooth out. Notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation.

Bring every part of your face toward your nose and hold it there. Feel the tension in various parts of your face.  Relax, breathing freely and enjoying the difference.

Close your eyes as tightly as you are able and feel the tension in your face. At the same time, smile with your mouth closed as wide as you are able, then hold, relax, and continue to breathe.

Clench your jaw and push your tongue up to the roof of your mouth. Again, hold for 7 seconds, relax for 20 seconds and repeat the exercise. Be aware of your arms and hands being deeply relaxed, continue to breathe in and out freely and evenly.

Press your head as far back as it can comfortably go. Gently roll it to the right, then to the left. Straighten your head, bringing it forward, and press your chin against your chest. Feel the tension in your neck at each point. Relax, and let your head return to a comfortable position.

Bring your shoulders as close to your ears as you can, hunching your head down into them. Hold for 7 seconds, then with an exhale, relax and return to deep, calm breathing. Feel relaxation spread through your shoulders and neck, repeat the exercise, and enjoy the relaxation again.

Take some deep diaphragmatic breaths and allow your body to sink more deeply into relaxation.

Continuing with the tense-release cycle and repeating each cycle twice, move to the following muscle groups:

  • Tighten your stomach
  • Arch your back (without straining)
  • Tighten your buttocks and thighs
  • Press your heels into the ground
  • Press your toes downward, away from your head
  • Curl your toes toward your face

Continue the deep breathing, enjoying the relaxation, and scanning your body slowly for any remaining tense spots. Return to the tense-release cycle if a muscle group remains tense. After a time of relaxed breathing, stretch and sit carefully upright until you are ready to stand.

This is a technique that may have limited results initially, but with practice, it will be possible to relax your whole body in only a few minutes.

Be careful when tensing the neck and back to avoid muscle or spinal damage. Go gently in these places, and avoid over-tightening any muscle group to avoid cramping.