Muscular Relaxation & The Relaxation
Techniques from Mind Tools
This tool introduces three useful physical
relaxation techniques that can help you
reduce muscle tension and manage the effects
of the fight-or-flight response on your
body. This is particularly important if
you need to think clearly and perform precisely
when you are under pressure.
The techniques we will look at are Deep
Breathing, Progressive Muscular Relaxation
and “The Relaxation Response”.
Using These Techniques:
Deep breathing is a simple but very effective
method of relaxation. It is a core component
of everything from the "take ten deep
breaths" approach to calming someone
down, right through to yoga relaxation and
meditation. It works well in conjunction
with other relaxation techniques such as
Progressive Muscular Relaxation, relaxation
imagery and meditation to reduce stress.
To use the technique, take a number of
deep breaths and relax your body further
with each breath. That's all there is to
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
Progressive Muscular Relaxation is useful
for relaxing your body when your muscles
The idea behind PMR is that you tense up
a group of muscles so that they are as tightly
contracted as possible. Hold them in a state
of extreme tension for a few seconds. Then,
relax the muscles to their previous state.
Finally, consciously relax the muscles even
further so that you are as relaxed as possible.
By tensing your muscles first, you will
probably find that you are able to relax
your muscles more than would be the case
if you tried to relax your muscles directly.
Experiment with PMR by forming a fist, and
clenching your hand as tight as you can
for a few seconds. Then relax your hand
to its previous tension, and then consciously
relax it again so that it is as loose as
possible. You should feel deep relaxation
in your hand muscles.
For maximum relaxation you can use PMR in
conjunction with breathing techniques and
We mentioned “The
Relaxation Response” in our article
In a series of experiments into various
popular meditation techniques, Dr. Benson
established that these techniques had a
very real effect on reducing stress and
controlling the fight-or-flight response.
Direct effects included deep relaxation,
slowed heartbeat and breathing, reduced
oxygen consumption and increased skin resistance.
This is something that you can do for yourself
by following these steps:
- Sit quietly and comfortably.
- Close your eyes.
- Start by relaxing the muscles of your
feet and work up your body relaxing muscles.
- Focus your attention on your breathing.
- Breathe in deeply and then let your
breath out. Count your breaths, and say
the number of the breath as you let it
out (this gives you something to do with
your mind, helping you to avoid distraction).
Do this for ten or twenty minutes.
An even more potent alternative approach
is to follow these steps, but to use relaxation
instead of counting breaths in step 5.
Again, you can prove to yourself that this
works using biofeedback
“Deep Breathing,” “Progressive
Muscular Relaxation,” and the steps
leading to the “Relaxation Response”
are three good techniques that can help
you to relax your body and manage the symptoms
of the fight-or-flight response.
These are particularly helpful for handling
nerves prior to an important performance,
and for calming down when you are highly