Physician and psychiatrist Dr. Edmund Jacobson is perhaps best known for his development of the progressive muscle relaxation technique in the early 20th century. This technique was designed to help people more effectively cope with and manage stress and related conditions like insomnia and anxiety. According to clinical mental health counseling professor Carlos P. Zalaquett, PhD, at the University of South Florida, progressive relaxation can help relax your mind and body and produce a feeling of overall well-being.
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Jacobson's relaxation technique, known as progressive muscle relaxation, is based on the concept of progressively tensing and relaxing your muscles. By doing this, you set the stage for a rebound effect, says clinical psychologist Jonathan C. Smith, PhD, in his book, "Relaxation, Meditation & Mindfulness." This means that once you let go of the contraction, your muscles may be able to relax more deeply and effectively.
The Relaxation Response
Too much accumulated stress is detrimental for your mind and body. When you experience stress -- whether real or perceived -- your body instinctively triggers the "fight-or-flight" reaction, which helps you to fight or flee the stressor. According to information published on the Susan G. Komen Foundation website, the "fight-or-flight" response leads to physiological changes like increased breath and heart rate or higher blood pressure. Frequent exposure to stress may cause or contribute to detrimental health issues, including gastrointestinal problems or high cholesterol. By choosing to manage stress and engaging in relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation, you may help counter the negative effects of stress and invoke your relaxation response, which may result in beneficial physiological changes, such as lowered blood pressure, decreased heart rate and feelings of calmness.
Just Do It
The Jacobson progressive relaxation technique usually requires approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete. According to the University of Missouri Center on Aging Studies, the technique can be performed while sitting or lying, as long as your head is properly supported. Begin by relaxing your body, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Contract the muscles of your feet for a count of five. Release the contraction and relax for a count of 20 and then repeat. Then move to your legs and repeat the same process. Move up your body, continuing the process for your stomach, chest, hands, arms, neck, head and face. Practice this exercise regularly for best results.
One you become comfortable with progressive relaxation, you may wish to incorporate visualization in your practice, suggests the University of Missouri Center on Aging Studies. It's best to use visualization after you've completed the basic progressive muscle relaxation sequence. Visualization is an active relaxation technique that relies on the power of your imagination to create vivid mental imagery and increase relaxation. During visualization, you draw upon all five senses and imagine a relaxing, peaceful setting, such as a tropical beach or another tranquil location of your choice. You try to imagine the specific sensations you might experience in such a setting, such as the warmth of the sun on your face, the smell of the grass or the sounds of the crashing waves. Allow your mind to change the image to suit your personal preferences.