Progressive Muscle Relaxation Definition

A relaxation technique that involves tensing and relaxing the muscles of each part
of the body, one part at a time. Typically, practicing progressive muscle relaxation starts
with sitting or reclining in a quiet, comfortable setting with one’s shoes off. The muscles
in one area of the body are tensed for 5–8 seconds, and then the tension is released
before you move on to the next area. A typical practice might go something like this:

  • Make a fist with your right hand for 5–8 seconds, and then relax it.
  • Bend your right arm to flex your biceps, and then relax it.
  • Make a fist with your left hand, and then relax it.
  • Bend your left arm to flex your biceps, and then relax it.
  • Raise your eyebrows, and then relax your face.
  • Squeeze your eyes shut, then relax.
  • Clench your teeth and grimace, then relax.
  • Lock your hands behind your neck. Pull up your shoulders and push your head back
    against your hands. Relax.
  • Breathe in, hold your breath, and press your shoulders together at the back. Relax, let
    your shoulders hang, and breathe normally.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles, and then relax them.
  • Press your right foot forward into the floor, and then relax it.
  • Lift up your right heel, and then release it.
  • Crook the toes of your right foot, and then relax them.
  • Press your left foot forward into the floor, and then relax it.
  • Lift up your left heel, and then release it.
  • Crook the toes of your left foot, and then relax them.
  • Afterward, close your eyes and remain relaxed, breathing deeply.

Some sources recommend doing progressive muscle relaxation twice a day, at least
initially. Progressive muscle relaxation helps teach you to relax in part by helping you
recognize the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Eventually, you may learn to
enter a relaxed state without having to do the progressive relaxation exercise.

Try this example of a progressive muscle relaxation sequence.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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