Instructions for Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, is a technique
that enables you to systematically relieve tension throughout your body. It is
based on a simple principle of physiology, namely, that it is not possible to
hold tension in your muscles and at the same time feel relaxed – mentally or
physically. The opposite effect has been found equally true: If physical tension
is released, psychological tension will ease as well.
This easy-to-learn procedure was first developed by
Edmund Jacobson in 1929, and continues to be widely taught and used because it
does work. Research has shown multiple physiological and
psychological benefits of PMR – reducing high blood pressure and heart rate,
helping to restore a normal digestive process interrupted by tension, as well as
easing distress and insomnia, and enhancing immune function. While PMR can be
effective for everyone, if you are someone who prefers moving and "doing" and
feels uncomfortable sitting still in a meditative posture, this technique
initially might feel more suited to your needs.
- Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Take off your shoes,
loosen any tight clothing, remove your glasses or contact lenses, watch,
etc., and uncross your legs and arms (crossed legs and arms restrict blood
- Sit or recline comfortably so that your entire body feels fully
supported, including your head and neck.
- PMR is a two-step process: It involves first deliberately contracting
individual muscles, then releasing that tension and noting the difference in
sensations as you do so. We recommend that you practice this tense-and-relax
sequence by moving progressively from your feet to your head, but the
opposite direction is also possible.
- It is important to tense each muscle as tightly as possible – so that it
feels uncomfortable but does not cause painful cramping – for 7 to 10
seconds. Then suddenly-- not gradually – just let the tension go as you
exhale fully. (Releasing tension slowly requires holding some tension as
little by little you let go. Instead, allow your muscle to go limp
instantly.) Before tensing the next muscles, breathe easily for another 25
to 30 seconds.
- Repeat this sequence of tensing and relaxing at your own unhurried pace,
taking deep, refreshing inhalations and relaxing exhalations.
- CAUTION: If you have any pain anywhere in your body, do not tense
those muscles. Just imagine a soothing, relaxing breath move through that
The PMR Procedure:
To begin, close your eyes and take a deep
cleansing breath in through your nose, and "sigh" it out through your mouth.
Now, contract and then relax each area of your body in the following
- First, tighten your right foot with toes curled under. Hold that
tension (thinking "tight, tight, tight"), then relax. Repeat with your
- Flex your right foot with toes pointing towards your head. Hold
tightly and then release all at once. Repeat with your left foot.
- Lift your right heel off the ground without raising your toes. Hold
that tension and then let it go. Repeat with your left heel.
- Raise your right leg approximately 6 inches above the floor without
contracting your stomach and then release all at once. Repeat with your
- Press your knees together as tightly as possible and then release.
- Tighten your buttocks by squeezing them together and then release.
- Tense your abdomen by sucking in your belly. Hold tightly and then
let the tension go.
- Make a fist with your right hand, clenching it tightly so you might
sense your nails pressing into your palms. Hold this and then release.
Repeat with your left hand.
- Tighten the biceps on your right arm by bending your arm at the
elbow and drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder. Hold the
tension and then release. Repeat with your left arm.
- Extend your right arm out straight and lock you elbow. Hold your arm
taut and then let your arm drop, fully relaxed. Repeat with your left
- Without straining (see CAUTION above), arch your back but keep the
rest of your body relaxed. Hold this tension, then let it go completely
- Pull your shoulders back tightly and then release. Now press your
shoulders forward by hunching them. Hold the tension and release.
- Raise your shoulders towards your ears. Hold tightly then relax and
feel the sensation of this release.
- Open your mouth as wide as possible and then relax.
- Clench your teeth together as firmly as possible, feeling your jaw
tight, and then release.
- Purse your lips in a tight, taut "O" shape. Hold this, then relax.
- Squeeze your eyes shut as tightly as possible, then let this tension
go with your eyes closed but fully relaxed and easy.
- Furrow your brow as tightly as possible, imagining deep frown lines
across your forehead. Hold this and then release.
- As you move from one place in your body to the next, feel the
warm, soothing sensation that spreads upward of its own accord.
- Before reopening your eyes, remind yourself that when you do so,
you will feel relaxed yet alert, calm and refreshed.
Within just a matter of weeks, you will develop
enough ease and skill with PMR to begin using an abbreviated version. You
can tighten and relax full muscle groups on both sides of the body at the
same time. For example, straighten both your legs out in front of you with
your feet flexed as tightly as possible, then let this go. Tense both arms
simultaneously while also making two fists then let your full arms and hands
go limp instantly. Also, similarly tighten your buttocks and abdomen and
release. Follow the same procedure screwing tightly all parts of your face
and mouth, then instantly relax. Initially, though, it is best to go through
the complete process of tensing and relaxing one muscle group at a time,
first on one side of your body and then on the other.