Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to relax and relive the body of stress. It also offers a great way to develop body awareness and understand how your body is working and to find ways to improve the use of your body. It involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. All you need is the floor or a chair, your favourite relaxing music and about 10-15 min (something’s longer as you may fall into a deep sleep after). I put a half a class of first year Sport Science students to sleep using this technique.
With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you a greater awareness of what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness will help you spot and counteract signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress from your daily fast paced life style, and if you don’t have a fast paced life style this technique can also help your body recover from training sessions. As your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of relief from stress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence
- Right foot
- Left foot
- Right calf
- Left calf
- Right thigh
- Left thigh
- Hips and buttocks
- Right arm and hand
- Left arm and hand
- Neck and shoulders
Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face. For a sequence of muscle groups to follow, see the box to the right:
- Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
- Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
- When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
- Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
- Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
- Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
- When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
- Move slowly up through your body — legs, abdomen, back, neck, face — contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
Practice makes perfect so try on a regular basis for better and quicker results. A great time to be used is just before bed.