Autogenic means self-generating. Essentially, autogenic training is a type of self-hypnosis that uses visual imagery to systematically relax and warm your body. It is similar to Visualization but instead of using images from your environment like a deserted beach or mountain lake, it uses your own body as the focal point.
During autogenic training you literally use your mind to redirect your blood flow away from your internal organs and out to your arms, legs, hands, and feet. This reverses one of the effects of stress; cold hands and cold feet. The main by-product of autogenic training —warmth and a feeling of heaviness in the limbs—is associated with redirecting blood flow to your arms, hands, legs and feet. This leads to the second by-product of autogenic training, reduced muscle tension.
Autogenic training was developed by Johannes Schultz, a German psychiatrist, and his student, Wolfgang Luthe, for use in the practice of psychotherapy. They used hypnosis as a tool to help relax their patients during their therapy sessions. Over the years it has been used successfully to help people reduce their stress.
There are five steps involved in performing autogenic training. As you move from Step 1 through Step 5 you will literally redirect your blood flow from your heart and other internal organs out to your arms and legs, hands and feet, bringing relaxing heaviness and warmth.
Step 1: Focus on Breathing and Visualization.
During this step you start to relax, take a few deep abdominal breaths, and contract and relax any muscles that feel tense. You repeat to yourself sentences such as “My breathing is slow and even,” and “My breathing is smooth and rhythmic,” to start to induce the self-hypnotic effects.
Step 2: Focus on the Heart.
During this step you shift your focus onto your heart and visualize your warm blood flowing throughout your body. You visualize the blood flowing out of your heart, through your internal organs and your brain, out through your arms and legs, all the way out to your fingers and toes. This step also involves visualizing warming images of your body’s core, the solar plexus located right behind your navel.
Step 3: Focus on the Arms and Hands.
During the third step your focus shifts from your heart and core to your arms, hands, and fingers. You alternatively visualize your right and left arms, hands, and fingers filling with blood and warming up. Your self-hypnotic talk includes messages of heaviness and warmth such as: “My right arm and hand are heavy and warm.”
Step 4: Focus on the Legs and Feet.
This step is similar to Step 3, but the attention shifts to your legs, feet, and toes.
Step 5: Wrap-Up.
The wrap-up focuses on feelings of heaviness and warmth spreading throughout your body. After a few moments the wrap-up brings you back to a non-hypnotic state in real time.
1. Set aside 20 minutes of uninterrupted time when you won’t be disturbed.
2. Use an exercise or yoga mat and make sure that the room temperature is comfortable.
3. Wear comfortable clothing such as a sweatsuit and remove your shoes or sneakers.
4. Lie on the mat with your legs straight and uncrossed.
5. Let your feet fall to the side comfortably and rest your arms comfortably on the floor next to your body.
6. Focus your attention on your breathing.
7. Fill and empty your lungs by slowly breathing in and out through your nose.
8. Continue to breathe like this for a few more breaths.
9. Relax: you have nowhere else to go, and nothing to do.
10. Repeat the following sentences to yourself: “My breathing is slow and even.” “My breathing is smooth and rhythmic.”
11. As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, visualize your heart and say to yourself several times: “My heartbeat is calm and regular.”
12. As you continue to repeat this message to yourself, visualize your heart beating calmly and regularly, sending warm blood throughout your body. Imagine the blood flowing out of your heart, through your internal organs and your brain, through your arms and legs, and all the way out to your fingers and toes.
13. Continue for several seconds to breathe slowly and deeply, watching your blood course slowly throughout your body.
14. Now visualize the center of your body, your solar plexus, that part of your body right behind your navel. Imagine it is warm and relaxed, and repeat the following sentence to yourself several times: “My solar plexus is warm and relaxed.”
15. Repeat to yourself: “I am relaxed.” “I am calm.” “I am quiet.” “My breathing is smooth and rhythmic.” “My heartbeat is calm and regular.” “My solar plexus is warm and relaxed.”
16. Starting with your right arm and hand, repeat the following statement several times as you continue to breathe slowly and deeply and visualize the warm blood flowing throughout your arm all the way to your fingers: “My right arm and hand are heavy and warm.”
17. Switch your focus to the left arm and hand and follow the same instructions as those for your right arm and hand.
18. Now focus on both arms and hands and repeat the following statements several times: “Both of my arms and hands are heavy and warm.” “It would take a great effort to raise my arms.”
19. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply, visualizing the blood flowing into your arms and hands, making them feel heavy and warm.
20. As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, visualize the blood traveling throughout your legs, bringing with it feelings of heaviness and warmth. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply and repeat the following statement several times: “My right leg and foot are heavy and warm.”
21. Switch your focus to the left leg and foot and follow the same instructions as those for your right leg and foot.
22. Shift your focus to both legs and repeat the following statements several times: “Both of my legs and feet are heavy and warm.” “It would take a great deal of effort to lift my legs and feet.”
23. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly, visualizing the waves of warmth and relaxation washing over your body. Repeat the following statements to yourself several times: “I am warm and relaxed.” “I am calm.” “I am quiet.” “My breathing is smooth and rhythmic.” “My heartbeat is calm and regular.”
24. After a few moments slowly open your eyes, stretch your muscles, and readjust to your environment.
25. Slowly sit up, put your shoes back on fully return to the present, awake, refreshed, and ready to face the day.
To get the full benefits of autogenic training, you will need to practice it on a regular basis. If you like autogenic training and would prefer to just lie back and listen to a professional recording, pick up a copy of mine on my website: www.drrichblonna.com/audio/relaxation-mastery-audio-collection/.
In my next column I’ll shift gears and talk about the next level of defense against stress, Release. Release uses vigorous physical activity to get rid of stress-related tension and nervous energy.
Until then 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.