One of the most simple and easily learned techniques for relaxation is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This was originally developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, a Chicago physician in 1939. It is a widely used procedure today with a more modern approach based on his basic observations.
It is a common experience that our muscles tense when we feel anxious. As we go through the day, we keep tensing different parts of our body, and keep carrying that tension in our muscles without even being aware of it. Most of us can relate to the experience of having pain caused by tension in our neck or shoulders by the end of the work day. By learning to relax and release this muscular tension, we can actually reduce anxiety. When the muscles are relaxed, the body system gets the message that the perceived danger is over and that the systems can return to normal.
PMR has a physical and a mental component. The physical component involves consciously and intentionally tensing groups of muscles for a few seconds and then relaxing them to attain a deeper than normal levels of muscles relaxation. We work with each of the major muscle groups in our body, one after the other, thus progressively helping the whole body to relax.
The mental component focuses on the difference between the feelings of the tension and relaxation. With the eyes closed, concentrating on the sensation of tension and relaxation in the muscles, we become more aware of the levels of tension in our muscles. We also develop the skill to relax the muscles by simply choosing to relax them when we notice tension. With practice, we become experts in recognizing tension in our body, communicating with the muscles and relaxing them instantly, and thereby reduce anxiety and stress symptoms. PMR is found to be effective against ulcers, insomnia and hypertension.
The basic procedure may take a few attempts to get used to but once it is mastered the muscles can be relaxed more rapidly providing an ideal basis for other relaxation techniques, visualisation, or self-hypnosis. Before practicing PMR, consult with your physician if you have a history of serious injuries, muscle spasms, or back problems, because the deliberate muscle tensing procedure could exacerbate any of the pre-existing conditions. Also, make sure to stop if you notice sharp pain or discomfort anytime.