Simple Acts of Calm: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Every day the health press tell us we need to find ways to relax, but where to begin? One quick and easy way to relax that anyone can easily learn is progressive muscle relaxation.
What is It?
Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple exercise where you isolate one muscle group at a time and consciously tense it. While holding the tension you focus on how it feels and where it travels to in your body.
For example if you tense your right hand into a fist and squeeze it really tight you will soon feel the tension traveling up your arm. The longer you hold it, the more you feel it until it becomes really uncomfortable to hold that tension any longer. With progressive muscle relaxation you hold the tension in an area of your body for a few seconds and then release it suddenly, letting that area go completely limp and relaxed. Instantly, you will feel relief as your muscles relax and the tension dissolves away until you no longer feel it.
How Does Progressive Muscle Relaxation Work to Release Tension?
When a muscle is tensed and then released it has to relax - it's a natural physiological response. The muscle will instantly return to it's previous state which means you feel the comparative relief of tension followed by relaxation, but there is an added advantage to this physiological response; if left to rest the muscle will become more relaxed than it was before your tensed it.
In progressive muscle relaxation all the major muscle groups of the body are willfully put under tension and then relaxed, which means that your entire body ends up feeling more relaxed than it did previously.
Enter the Relaxation Response
Once your muscles begin to relax, your body triggers the relaxation response which is it's own natural stand down state - the exact physiological opposite of the stress response.
Your breathing and heart rate will steady and slow down, your blood flow becomes sedate and richly oxygenated, your digestive system functions beautifully as it is no longer distracted by stress. Your circulation improves and warms your hands and feet and you begin to feel calm and relaxed all over
Mastering Tension Anywhere, Anytime
This consciously induced tension also shows us what happens when tension builds naturally in our body. If we are driving with hunched shoulders we will eventually develop pain in the muscles of our neck and shoulders, we may even develop a tension headache. A few minutes spent each day practicing progressive muscle relaxation trains you to notice and release tension before it builds into physical pain.
If you notice any of your muscles feeling tense when you go about your daily tasks, take a deep breath in and tense them further, hold the tension for a few seconds, then breath out and release the tension suddenly and you will feel instant relief.
For a super easy introduction to the benefits of progressive muscle relaxation try our new guided stress relief download - it's called "Natural Release" and it will guide you through a muscle relaxation experience that will leave you feeling wonderfully light and calm.
Photo by Richard Moross