In this column I want to introduce you to a mild Release strategy called Systematic Muscle Relaxation (also known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation), a technique developed by Edmund Jacobson, a Chicago physician. His early work with progressive muscular relaxation involved pre-surgical hospital patients. He noticed that patients awaiting surgery seemed stressed and had high levels of muscular tension, particularly in the neck and back. Jacobson developed systematic muscle relaxation to help patients relax their muscles before surgery to enhance their response to treatment and care. Systematic muscle relaxation systematically relaxes the entire body, alternately contracting and relaxing individual muscles and muscle groups.
Jacobson found that with practice, patients could learn to relax their skeletal muscles whenever they wanted to. The technique not only worked in reducing skeletal muscle tension, it also had a calming effect on the mind and on the activity of internal organs.
Systematic muscle relaxation has been found to be effective in treating stress, insomnia, nervous anxiety, depression, hypochondria, hypertension, colitis, and tension headaches. You can use the following instructions or simply lie down and listen to my relaxation CD available on iTunes at: itunes.apple.com/us/album/seven-weeks-to-conquering/id260838495.
Systematic Muscle Relaxation Activity.
Warning: People with a history of low back pain, disc or other spinal problems, and musculoskeletal disorders should speak to their physicians before engaging in this activity.
1. This activity is done lying comfortably on a yoga mat with your shoes off and your legs straight and uncrossed. Let your feet fall to the side comfortably. Your arms should rest comfortably on the floor next to your body.
2. Repeat each set of contractions twice before moving to the next set.
3. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths.
4. Relax; you have nowhere else to go, and nothing to do.
5. The next set of instructions will have you start contracting and relaxing your muscles starting with your feet and toes. Contract your muscles as vigorously as possible to the point of feeling strong tension but short of pain. Hold each contraction for a few seconds before releasing it.
6. Point the toes of both feet back toward your face as far as they will go. This is similar to removing your foot from the gas pedal.
7. Hold for a few seconds and then gradually let your feet return to their normal resting position.
8. Point the toes of both feet away from your face, pushing them down toward the floor.
9. Hold for a few seconds, then gradually let your feet return to their normal resting position.
10. Straighten your legs, touching your feet together, and push down on the floor with the bottoms of your legs and knees.
11. Hold for a few seconds and then gently let your knees pop up and your legs return to their normal resting position.
12. Tense all your stomach muscles (pull them in as if you were preparing to get punched in the stomach).
13. Hold them tightly for a few seconds and then let your stomach muscles return to their normal resting position.
14. Tightly clench the muscles in your buttocks and anus. If you are doing this correctly, your groin and genitals should push up.
15. Hold for a few seconds and then return to your normal resting position.
16. Lift your arms back over your head trying to touch the floor behind your head with the backs of your hands and fingers.
17. As you do this, tilt your head to the rear and arch your back as far as it will go. Stretch your chin up and back toward the wall behind your head.
18. Hold for a few seconds and then gently let your head fall forward and your spine straighten. Return your arms to their resting position on your abdomen.
19. Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears; try to touch your ear lobes with your shoulder blades.
20. Slowly let your shoulders return to their normal resting position.
21. Move your arms so that your palms are pressing inward on the sides of your legs.
22. Press your palms as hard as you can against the outside of your legs.
23. Hold this for a few seconds and then let your arms return to their normal resting position.
24. Keep your shoulder blades flat on the floor, bend your right arm, and reach across your torso. Try to touch the outside of your left shoulder.
25. Hold this for a few seconds and then let your arm return to its normal resting position.
26. Repeat this activity with your left arm reaching for your right shoulder.
27. Hold this for a few seconds and then let your arm return to its normal resting position.
28. Clench both of your hands into tight fists.
29. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly let your hands return to their normal resting position.
30. Clench both of your fists and curl your arms tightly so that your hands press up against your shoulders (as if you were curling a barbell).
31. Hold for a few seconds and then relax and let your arms return to their normal resting position.
32. Bend your head forward, trying to touch your chest with your chin. Keep your shoulders flat against the floor while you are attempting this.
33. Hold this position for a few seconds and then gently return your head to its normal resting position.
34. Tilt your head backward, trying to touch your nose to the wall behind you. Keep your shoulders on the floor.
35. Hold this for a few seconds and then gently let your chin and head return forward to their normal resting position.
36. Gently turn your head as far as it will go to the right side. Imagine you are trying to touch your cheek to the floor.
37. Hold this position for a few seconds and then gently return your head to its normal resting position.
38. Gently turn your head to the left side as far as it will go. Imagine you are trying to touch your cheek to the floor.
39. Hold this position for a few seconds and then gently return your head to its normal resting position.
40. Scrunch up your face into the tightest, funniest expression you can make.
41. Hold this for a few seconds and let your face return to its normal resting position.
42. Open your mouth and eyes as wide as they will go.
43. Hold this position for a few seconds and then return to your normal resting position.
44. You may now go back to any part of your body that still feels tense. If you can find any remaining tense areas contract them, hold for a few seconds, and release the tension.
45. Relax, feel the warmth and peacefulness of the absence of tension.
46. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths and return to the present, awake, refreshed, and ready to face the day.
Use Systematic Muscle Relaxation whenever you feel stress-related tension. This will reduce your risk for developing stress-related muscle pain and spasms.
See you in our next issue. In the meantime remember to Stress Less and Live More.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.