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Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques

author image Brian Connolly
Based in the Appalachian Mountains, Brian Connolly is a certified nutritionist and has been writing professionally since 2000. He is a licensed yoga and martial arts instructor whose work regularly appears in “Metabolism,” “Verve” and publications throughout the East Coast. Connolly holds advanced degrees from the University of North Carolina, Asheville and the University of Virginia.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Progressive muscle relaxation techniques can be performed practically anywhere. Photo Credit relax image by Bergmeister from Fotolia.com


Progressive muscle relaxation refers to a variety of breathing and meditation techniques that help release tension throughout the body. Types types of strategies have clinically proven health benefits, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The techniques reduce the perception of pain as well as symptoms in conditions as diverse as diabetes, infertility, tension headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. With practice, practically anyone can perfect basic muscle relaxation techniques.

Basic Systematic Muscle Relaxation

Easily the most common progressive muscle relaxation technique is the systematic tension and relaxation method. This technique utilizes a sequence of isolated tensing and relaxation to guide each of the body’s muscles toward absolute relaxation. The method is particularly effective in locating and eliminating bodily tension that may have gone undetected. Begin by sitting or laying down on a comfortable surface and relaxing each of your body’s muscles and ligaments. Tighten the muscles and joints of your right foot as strongly as you can for 10 seconds, making sure to tense each of the foot muscles with all of your might. After 10 seconds completely relax the foot and note the difference of a relaxed muscle and a tense muscle; keep your right foot completely relaxed as you do your left foot and then move up your body, tensing and relaxing each isolated muscle until your entire body has become progressively free of tension.

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Imagery Techniques

Having performed the basic systematic muscle relaxation, you are now able to heighten the sense of relaxation through visual techniques of imagery and color. A common technique among practitioners of guided meditation, imagery muscle relaxation involves going through the basic muscle relaxation process while imagining various colors, textures and shapes to assist in letting go of tension. A popular method of this visualization technique is to imagine the tension as a red color, or a texture resembling glass, barbed wire or any other sharp, jagged material. As tension leaves the body, it is gradually replaced by a light cool turquoise color and substance similar to a gentle wave or tide. Repeat the basic systematic muscle relaxation technique while including various visualizations for the feelings of tension and relaxation until you find the imagery that is most conducive to a relaxing state. Some popular visualization alternatives include imagining a golden orb of light moving through the body as you relax, or a waterfall cascading down upon the relaxing muscle group.

Music Therapy Techniques

For a complete sensory experience of progressive muscle relaxation, combine your visualization techniques with a relaxing soundtrack or CD to help facilitate an overall calm during your session. Visit a record store or online music source for compositions of relaxation music and sample the different varieties available. Relaxation albums can range from Vietnamese flute music to whale mating sounds; whatever your preference, select the genre and type of audio that would be most beneficial for your relaxation session. Once you have selected a CD or composition, begin playing it at the start of your progressive muscle relaxation and experience the difference the music makes in removing tension from the body. For instance, an album of ocean sounds might be very effective if your relaxation imagery involves waves of blue water eliminating tension as you continue to tense and release your muscles.

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