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Muscle relaxation can beat tension

These are incredible times to be living in, and technologies such as computers, televisions, telephones, and cars have made life so much easier and convenient. Times of tremendous growth and prosperity also require that you grow and adapt with them. Sometimes it is difficult to keep up with such a fast-paced and ever changing society, so it is very important to learn and utilise skills that will help you succeed in the 21st century. These skills will not only help you gain control of your life, but they will also help you gain that extra advantage needed to make it in today’s global world.


If you do the muscle exercises well, you will find a pleasant change towards serenity creeping up on you.

One of the skills that is highly important to learn and implement into your daily life is relaxation. For many of us, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response.

Stress and nervous system

However, stress is necessary for life. You need stress for creativity, learning, and your very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that your nervous system needs to remain in balance.

Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, a good relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing a state of deep calmness.

When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life.

A good relaxation technique puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness level, and the way you tend to react to stress.

The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and positively interrupt your everyday thoughts.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation

There are countless techniques used to achieve relaxation, but one of the procedures that is most commonly practised in the clinical setting is Dr. Jacobson’s Progressive Muscular Relaxation. It is popular because of its simplicity and effectiveness.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation technique was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. The technique involves learning to monitor tension in each specific muscle group in the body by deliberately inducing tension in each group. This tension is then released, with attention paid to the contrast between tension and relaxation. These learning sessions are not exercises or self-hypnotism.

In his book, Progressive Relaxation, Dr Edmond Jacobson describes how he first used progressive relaxation techniques with patients who appeared physically tense. He discovered that he could induce nerve-muscle relaxation through progressive relaxation – a process of tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.

Dr Jacobson devoted his life to solve the stress problem. And from his mass of scientific information obtained through decades of research, he concluded that it is possible for nearly anyone to (1) go about the day calmly and as “loose” as a champion athletic and (11) induce at will the serene repose of untroubled sleep.

It is possible without using drugs or any other means except a simple physical skill - removal of tension by progressively relaxing muscles.

What Dr. Jacobson learned is that an inner tension depends for its survival on existing in a “vicious circle.”

The circle may begin with fear, anxiety or over-stimulation, which then builds the rest of it –including perhaps such elements as frustration, sleeplessness, fatigue, anger, and ulcers. But one part of the circulation that is always there is muscle tension. Get rid of muscle tension and the rest of the elements evaporate.

Muscle control

Briefly put, this is how the Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique works:

Step 1: Tension - Inhale and purposely tense up or tighten hard the selected muscle group (not so hard that you strain). Hold the muscle tension for 5-10 seconds.

Step 2: Relax - Exhale while quickly but gently letting go, releasing tension. Take pleasure in the sensation of tension draining out of your body. Be still 15-20 seconds before moving on to the next muscle group. Compare relaxation vs. contraction.

Throughout the exercise, you must maintain awareness on how your muscles feel during both contracting and relaxing. When your attention wanders, bring it back to the particular muscle group you’re working on.

Alternate muscle groups - from right to left, starting with the hands, and work up to the shoulders. Then begin with the feet. Starting with the right foot, work back up to the shoulders (again), leaving the neck and face last.


Make a tight fist and note the sensation. That is muscle tension

Any particular sequence is in order, but to start with areas in which physical and emotional tension seem to gather, such as the shoulders, neck and face might prove difficult.

For example, hands and forearms - clench your hand and make a tight fist: Upper arms - curl your arm and flex your bicep as if “making a muscle”: Shoulders - shrug both your shoulders trying to touch them to your ears: Feet - flex your toes upward: Front of legs - point your toes so that your foot is parallel with your leg: Back of legs - flex your feet upwards, stretching your heels down: Thighs - extend your leg keeping your foot relaxed, press the back of your knee towards the floor: Abdomen - hold your stomach muscles in tight: Lower Back - press the small of your back into the chair or floor: Upper Back – (1) with both arms down along your sides, tighten and press them in against your body: Chest - breathe in, hold your breath and tighten your chest muscles.

Shoulders - breath in, hold your breath and again shrug your shoulders as if trying to touch them to your ears.

Neck - (1) stretch your head back, as if touching your chin to the ceiling. (2) bend your head forward reaching your chin toward your chest.

Face - frown, scrunch face and make a stiff “pucker” with your lips, shutting eyes tight.

Relax

When you have finished your Progressive Muscle Relaxation session, remain quiet with eyes closed for a few seconds. Mentally scan your body for any residual tension. If a particular area remains tense, repeat one or two tense-relax cycles for that group of muscles.

On conclusion take a deep breath, hold it and say to yourself, “I’m calm” as you slowly exhale. Repeat. Open your eyes and give yourself a few more seconds to adjust before slowly getting up.

Notice how calm you are. The Progressive Muscle Relaxation method will enable you to recognise what it actually feels like to be deeply physically relaxed. You can then wilfully - anytime, anywhere - initiate physical muscle relaxation at the first signs of any tension. Cherish this sense of well-being throughout your entire body!

A bit of advice - before practising Progressive Muscle Relaxation, you should first consult your physician about any deliberate muscle tensing that may aggravate a pre-existing condition.

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