Developed by the American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique designed to improve disruptive emotional symptoms such as anxiety or insomnia. It’s particularly useful in recovery when high stress or nervousness is present.
Unlike meditation, which alleviates emotional and psychological sensations, PMR focuses on tackling physical symptoms of anxiety. It does this by relaxing the body so that the mind can follow. Research shows that some people suffering from anxiety or panic attacks find the physical symptoms of their conditions more impairing than their psychological effect. PMR helps us recognise and attend to the physical symptoms of anxiety. These include palpitations, hyperventilation, and shortness of breath and muscle tension, etc. It does this before they flair up.
PMR can be learned by nearly anyone and only requires 10 to 20 minutes per day to practise. It involves tensing and relaxing the muscle groups one at a time in a specific order, generally beginning with the peripheral areas of the body and ending with the abdomen and chest. This technique requires to be seated or lying down in a quiet place free from distractions. It is also advisable to wear loose, comfortable clothes. Here’s a demonstration on how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihO02wUzgkc
In order to make PMR fully effective, bear in mind the following points:
As mentioned above, it’s important to do the practice in a quiet place and free from distractions. Mobile phones should be turned off or set to silent. If you live in a noisy environment or share a living space you could reduce the impact of excess background noise by using a fan or a white noise machine.
During Progressive Muscle Relaxation the entire body, including the head, should be supported. Lying on a sofa or bed, or sitting in a reclining chair are good options that provide complete support. It is also important to wear clothes that are not too tight, itchy, or ill-fitted. Remove shoes, watch, glasses, distracting jewellery, or anything considered restrictive.
It is overambitious, especially as a beginner, to expect that all thoughts and worries exit our mind during the practice. Instead, we should focus on doing our best to put aside the concerns of the day. Try to achieve peace of mind for a short time. Letting go is the main priority so there is no need to evaluate the impact of the technique or even to try too hard to relax the body. We adopt a ‘let it happen’ attitude toward the exercise, making it more effective by generating less expectation.
Throughout the exercise, we should try our best to stay focused on the muscles. When your attention wanders – as it inevitably does – gently bring it back to the particular muscle group you are working on. This is an excellent practice that leads to reaping the full benefit of Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
Practice PMR at least twenty minutes per day, twice per day if possible. After two or three weeks of regular practice, the relaxation generated from the technique will have lasting effects. The benefits will spread through the rest of the day, or at least for several hours after it. The practice should be done before meal times as food digestion can disrupt relaxation. The ideal time is immediately after waking up or before bed. That said, for the technique to work, the time of the day is not fundamental. However, consistency is everything so try to pick a time and stick to it.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is also an excellent tool to help learn about our body and read our emotional and psychological condition. PMR has been demonstrated to have a hugely beneficial effect on anxiety and insomnia as well as other debilitating mental conditions. It helps us identify and diminish the physical signs and signals of stress and tension as and when they occur. Combined with other self-care techniques if can be a powerful tool in the path to recovery.