Man relaxing on his sofa

What is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)?

When we’re stressed or anxious, our body responds by becoming tense which only makes us feel worse. Progressive muscle relaxation is a self-care approach that helps to relieve tension

PMR works best as part of a routine, and it can take time to become good at it. Learning to relax is something which doesn’t necessarily come easy. Just because we are sitting comfortably in our favourite chair doesn’t mean we are relaxed, as our minds often continue to think about daily tasks such as work or family commitments. Aim to set aside time at least three times a week to practice. PMR only requires about 20 minutes and it can be done almost anywhere so it’s well worth investing the effort.

There are two basic parts:

1. Recognising the tension in your body

2. Systematically relaxing each of the 16 muscle groups.

Before you begin, loosen any clothing that might be restricting free movement, and find a quiet place to sit or lie down. For each of the 16 muscle groups, tense and hold that tension for five seconds. Then relax your muscles slowly for 10 to 20 seconds so that the tension feels like it’s draining away from your body. Some people find it helpful to say a word such as ‘calm’ or ‘relax’ as they do this. Throughout the full exercise, maintain your breathing at a steady rate.

Once you become more accomplished at PMR, you might want to play some calming music in the background. When you first start, focus solely on how your body feels as well as your breathing.

Here’s a simple PMR exercise to get you started

 

Tense and relax in the following order:

  • Chest. Take a deep breath through your mouth. Beginning from the abdominal area, fill your lungs with air while feeling the tension in the chest area from the expanded lungs. Hold for five seconds. Exhale as slowly as you can from the top of your lungs to your abdomen.
  • Right foot and lower leg. Keeping your heel to the floor, curl your toes back until you can feel tension in the ankle and calf muscle. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Right upper leg. Tense the top of your upper leg (quadriceps) and the bottom of the upper leg (hamstring). Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Left foot and lower leg. Keeping your heel to the floor, curl your toes back until you can feel tension in the ankle and calf muscle. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Left upper leg. Tense the top of your upper leg (quadriceps) and the bottom of the upper leg (hamstring). Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Right hand and forearm. With your palm facing down, lift your hand so you feel tension in the top of the hand, the wrist and the forearm. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Right upper arm. Tense the bicep and tricep. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Right shoulder. Shrug your shoulder towards your ear and roll your head toward the shoulder so that shoulder and ear are touching. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Left hand and forearm. With your palm facing down, lift your hand so you feel tension in the top of the hand, the wrist and the forearm. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Left upper arm. Tense the bicep and tricep. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Left shoulder. Shrug your shoulder towards your ear and roll your head toward the shoulder so that shoulder and ear are touching. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Jaw area. Without grinding your teeth or causing dental pain, bite down until tension can be felt in the jaw area. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Mouth. Purse your lips as hard as you can (as you would if you were whistling). Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Chin. Place the bottom of your tongue on the roof of the mouth and push upward. Your jaw should feel slightly strained. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Forehead. Furrow your brow. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds. Once you’ve done this, open your eyes as wide as you can so that your forehead is being pushed up. Hold for five seconds. Slowly release for a period of between 10 and 20 seconds.

  

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