What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation and How Can it Help you Unwind?

By Nisha Patel -

In my health hypnotherapy practice I saw many clients with various health complaints. The underlying causes of many of the issues were stress and anxiety. Issues like insomnia, drinking excessively, smoking, comfort eating and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) are of course complex and stress/anxiety isn’t the sole cause of these issues, but contribute heavily to certain behaviours. Therefore, virtually every hypnotherapy session would start with a process called progressive muscle relaxation.

What is Progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique for learning to observe and control the tension in ones muscles. In order to achieve mental relaxation the body must feel comfortable and relaxed first with all trace of stress and tension removed. Most people who are stressed and anxious are so used to feeling like this, they can’t distinguish between the feeling of relaxation and the feeling of tension in their bodies. This method allows one to do this and can be guided by another person e.g a hypnotherapist or psychologist. Alternatively, it can also be performed on oneself in a comfortable relaxed space.

Who can benefit from progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a powerful technique that can benefit anyone. But especially those who are feeling stressed or anxious. It is particularly useful for those suffering from insomnia and is recommended by the NICE clinical guidelines (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence providing UK national guidance and advice to improve health and social care). Using this technique just before bedtime can help the body completely unwind, which can then lead to a restful sleep.

When to use progressive muscle relaxation?

As mentioned above, If suffering from insomnia it can be used just before bedtime whilst lying in bed. Alternatively, if it is being used as a relaxation method, it can be done at any time when feeling stressed/anxious as long as it’s safe to do so. It’s not recommended whilst driving or operating machinery.

Where to use progressive muscle relaxation?

Whilst relaxing either sat or lying down with all electronic distractions removed e.g TV, computer and phone. It’s best to be carried out with minimal distractions and in a peaceful environment.

How to perform progressive muscle relaxation?

The traditional technique is a two-step process, focusing on a repetitive sequence carried out on each muscle group. The two-step process in each repetition consists of tensing the specific muscle group for five seconds and then relaxing it. For more information on this see this fantastic guide here.

The technique used in my health hypnotherapy practice was a slight variation of this and would solely focus on relaxation. I would guide the client into imagining each muscle group relaxing starting from the top of the head going down to the tips of the toes. This technique can easily be replicated by the client, simply imagining what the muscle would look and feel like when relaxed e.g warm, loose, heavy and comfortable. Each muscle group would be covered. e.g head (paying particular focus to eyes, forehead and jaw), neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, abdomen, buttocks, leg and feet.

After this activity the whole body should feel relaxed and tension-free. The only side effect is sleepiness…..happy relaxing!!!

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