Progressive muscle relaxation techniques

Using the breathing exercises and body scans, you have learned how to locate tension in your body, and use your breathing to promote wellbeing. This next exercise goes a bit further than this, helping you to physically relax your muscles using a combination of guided breathing and ‘tense and release’ strategies.

You can either listen to the audio and follow the guided instructions as they are given, or (if you’re short of time) you can read through the shortened transcript below and then try to do it yourself.

  • Take a moment to get comfortable, either sitting or lying down.  Make sure the whole of your body is supported.  Close your eyes, and bring your attention to your body.  Notice the points of contact between your body and the bed or chair.
  • For this exercise, we will work through each area of your body, gently tensing and releasing your muscles with the breath.
  • Start by focusing on your head and face.  Take a slow breath in and hold it for a count of 5 (or for as long as is comfortable for you).  As you hold your breath, gently tense all of the muscles in this area, clenching your jaw and eyes shut, and holding the tension for the count.  As you breathe out, slowly release your muscles in the area at the same time.  Notice the difference between how this area feels when it is tense and when it is relaxed.
  • Next, shift your attention to your neck, shoulders, arms and hands.  Taking another deep breath in, tense your muscles in this area by raising your shoulders up towards your ears, tensing your arms and drawing your hands into fists.  Hold this tension as you hold your breath for a count of 5 (or however long is comfortable), and then release as you breathe out.  Take a few moments to notice how this area feels, as you breathe normally, feeling the tension flowing away.
  • Now focus on your chest and upper back.  Tighten your muscles by taking a really deep breath and tensing this area.  Again, hold for 5 seconds, and release the tension as your breathe out.  Notice how this area now feels.
  • Next, move your attention to your abdomen and lower back.  Breathe in and tense your muscles in this area by pulling your belly button back towards your spine.  Hold the tension and your breath for 5 seconds, and then let your breath go, releasing the tension at the same time.  Take a moment to notice how you feel.
  • Moving your focus to your buttocks and thighs, breathe in and squeeze your muscles in this area as you hold your breath for a count of 5.  Release the tension in this area as you breathe out.  Again, take some time to notice how these muscles feels, free of tension.
  • Next, shift your attention to your calves and feet.  Breathe in and slowly bring tension to this area.  Hold your breath and keep this tension for 5 seconds.  As you release your breath, feel the tension flowing away and notice how this feels.
  • Once you have completed the last group of muscles, take a breath in and tense the muscles in your whole body (from head to toe).  Hold this tension tightly while you hold your breath for 5 counts, and finally breathe out slowly, releasing all the tension. Feel the tension disappear and the relaxation roll over you like a wave.
  • Stay in your position for a few deep breaths, and try to maintain this state of relaxation for as long as you can.  In your own time, when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.

Look after yourself and seek help, if you need it.