When we experience worry, stress, chronic discomfort, or acute physical pain, our muscles tighten up in a very subtle way.
Most of us don’t even notice when we're clenching our jaw, tensing our muscles or holding our breath.
As this tension accumulates through long periods of stress or fatigue, you can notice your muscles become tired, eventually causing pain or physical discomfort.
Tense muscles often lead to stomach ache, backache, migraine, or a tense concentration in the shoulders, face and neck — making mental exhaustion much more apparent.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you feel your body start to seize up, and your tense muscles getting tired, this simple and effective way to relax and release the tense energy of your body and give your muscles a break.
The Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise, (PMR) also known as the Jacobson's muscle relaxation technique, was developed and perfected in the 1930s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, a Harvard trained physician.
Doctor Jacobson studied the relationship of muscular tension and the disorders of the psyche in relationship to the body. After 20 years of research he released the Progressive Relaxation book in 1929, followed by the You Must Relax publication in 1934.
Interestingly, Dr. Edmund Jacobson lived until he was 92 years old, so perhaps we should consider what he had to say. With a bit of practice and instruction, these techniques can be performed at home.
Health Benefits And Uses Of The PMR Exercise
The PMR exercise has a variety of health benefits. It can lower your blood pressure,enhance your sex life, relieve anxiety, and greatly improve your sleep.
Many published medical studies have shown that the PMR exercise, on its own and in combination with other kinds of interventions including meditation, has helped patients with:
- Sleep quality
- Cognitive function
- Cigarette craving
- Cardiac disease
- Shortness of breath in COPD
- Chronic pain
- Phantom limb pain
- Arthritic pain
- Chronic facial pain that is associated with chewing.
- Anxiety and other adverse reactions to chemotherapy, including vomiting and nausea.
- Low back pain during pregnancy
- Repetitive thoughts
- Attention and emotional distress in school children
- Night eating syndrome
- Aggressive behaviors
The PMR Technique for Tense Muscles
This is an exercise that requires calm focused attention and conscious awareness of the moment. There are many variations of the PMR exercises, but the original method developed by Dr. Jacobson teaches you how to relax muscles using a 2 step process of tension and release.
Step 1: Tension – You consciously tighten and apply tension to the muscle groups throughout your whole body, one at a time.
Step 2: Relax – You release and let go of the muscular tension and concentrate on how the sensations and subtle feelings of tension flowing away.
Sit in a comfortable position (reclining chair is ideal). You can also lie on your back in a comfortable position. Get as comfortable as possible no tight shoes or clothes and do not cross your legs.
Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Once again.
At this point what you will be doing is alternately:
→ (STEP 1) Tensing
→ (STEP 2) Pausing and breathing deeply into the diaphragm, lungs, and out slowly while consciously relaxing specific muscle groups (see below).
After tension, the muscles will become more and more relaxed with each deep breath.
Focus on how muscles feel, specifically the contrast between relaxation and tension.
Gently repeat this sequence up to ten times each day. With practice you'll recognize tension in any of the muscles and with your applied awareness, you will be able to reduce the tension.
Here are a few things to consider while doing this exercise:
Do not tense muscles other than specific muscle group at each step.
Do not squint, hold your breath or grit your teeth.
Breathe evenly and slowly and focus on the tension relaxation contrast.
Each tension step should be done for eight to ten seconds and each relaxation step should be done for ten to fifteen seconds.
How To Tense Your Various Muscle Groups?
• Forearms and hands: tighten your fist and clench your hand.
• Upper arms: flex your biceps and curl your arms.
• Shoulders: Shrug your shoulders and bring them to touch the ears.
• Feet: Flex your toes upwards.
• Front of legs: Your toes should be parallel to your legs.
• Back of legs: flex your feet upwards and stretch your heels down.
• Thighs: Keep your feet relaxed, extend your legs and press the back of your knees towards the floor.
• Bottom: Clench the muscles of your buttocks together.
• Abdomen: Hold the stomach muscles tight.
• Lower back: Press your lower back into your floor, and gently tilt your pelvis to slightly flex the lower spine.
• Upper back: If you are lying down, you should place your arms along the sides of your body and then tighten and press then them against your body. If you are sitting, you should try to touch your elbows behind your back.
• Chest: Breath in deeply, hold your breath, you should then tighten the chest muscles.
• Shoulders: Inhale, hold your breath, then shrug your shoulders so that you can bring them close to your ears.
• Neck: Bend your head forward and try to reach your chin towards your chest or stretch your head backwards as if you`re touching the ceiling with your chin.
• Face: Scrunch, frown, face and then make a stiff-pucker with your lips and shut your eyes tight.
End PMR exercise with the complete relaxation of your body. Try to relax your whole body as much as possible while concentrating on your muscles. Close your eyes for a couple of minutes and scan your body mentally for any remaining tension.
If so, repeat the PMR exercise for the specific muscle groups. As you concentrate on your muscles, imagine your entire body floating and try to let go of those muscles just a little more with each breathe.