If you’re feeling stressed, it may seem counterintuitive to intentionally tense your muscles, but it might be your first step toward relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation—or PMR—is a relaxation technique that involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in the body, one at a time. It is an effective tool for managing stress, anxiety, insomnia, and even chronic pain.
PMR is a subtle, simple technique that is easy to learn and can be used almost anywhere at any time. It is based on the premise that it is easier to relax a muscle from a place of distinct tension than it is to relax it from a place of lower tension. By tensing or tightening the muscles, you’ll create an exaggerated sense of tension, which will then result in more relaxation when you release the muscle. Furthermore, consciously tensing and releasing muscles will help you to recognize where you hold tension in your body.
There are many guided audio programs that will walk you through PMR, but the technique is fairly easy to learn and use on your own. It’s safe and effective. Try it:
- Carve out space and time for a PMR session. You’ll need 10 to 30 minutes for optimal results. Find a quiet, dimly lit space where you’ll be free from interruptions. PMR is best practiced while lying down, but you can do it sitting up as well.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths before beginning.
- You will use breath and tension to move through the different muscle groups in the body. Take a deep inhale and contract the first muscle group (typically the feet), tensing but not straining. Hold this contraction for five to ten seconds and then exhale as you relax the muscles. Allow about 20 seconds to experience the deep sense of relaxation that follows the tension before you move on to the next muscle group.
- Gradually work your way up the body, consciously tensing and relaxing each muscle group one at a time. Most practitioners recommend beginning with the feet and ending with the face. For example:
- Lower legs
- Upper back
- Remember-inhale to tense and exhale to release. Once you’ve relaxed a muscle group, try not to use it again. For example, after clenching and releasing your hands, just let them relax alongside you without lifting them or using them.
- Once you’ve finished the sequence, simply relax and breathe deeply and allow yourself to rest in this peaceful state.
- Take your time transitioning out of the relaxed state when you are finished. Move slowly and gently as you re-enter the activities of your day.