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.

Practice Suggestions:

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 sequence:

    1. First, tighten your right foot with toes curled under. Hold that tension (thinking "tight, tight, tight"), then relax. Repeat with your left foot.
    2. Flex your right foot with toes pointing towards your head. Hold tightly and then release all at once. Repeat with your left foot.
    3. Lift your right heel off the ground without raising your toes. Hold that tension and then let it go. Repeat with your left heel.
    4. Raise your right leg approximately 6 inches above the floor without contracting your stomach and then release all at once. Repeat with your left leg.
    5. Press your knees together as tightly as possible and then release.
    6. Tighten your buttocks by squeezing them together and then release.
    7. Tense your abdomen by sucking in your belly. Hold tightly and then let the tension go.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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 arm.
    11. Without straining (see CAUTION above), arch your back but keep the rest of your body relaxed. Hold this tension, then let it go completely and suddenly.
    12. Pull your shoulders back tightly and then release. Now press your shoulders forward by hunching them. Hold the tension and release.
    13. Raise your shoulders towards your ears. Hold tightly then relax and feel the sensation of this release.
    14. Open your mouth as wide as possible and then relax.
    15. Clench your teeth together as firmly as possible, feeling your jaw tight, and then release.
    16. Purse your lips in a tight, taut "O" shape. Hold this, then relax.
    17. Squeeze your eyes shut as tightly as possible, then let this tension go with your eyes closed but fully relaxed and easy.
    18. 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.