There are numerous alternative therapies that aim to reduce tension through massage,
movement or the mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is one such method that you can do
at home after some basic training.
The benefits of PMR are many; stress relief, preventative therapy for respiratory
and cardiovascular problems, a way to help reduce asthma attacks…
Read on and try it yourself to see what you can get out of PMR.
The Eastern tradition of deep muscle relaxation
Eastern medicine has always recognised the value of deep breathing exercises,
combined with relaxation and meditation.
The aim of such exercises is to release tension whilst becoming more aware of
one’s own inner body functions, and managing the heart’s rhythm.
Apart from gentle Eastern gymnastics such as yoga, Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong,
all of which link action, meditation and regulated breathing, there are techniques
based entirely on your breathing.
These techniques are easily practised at home after having learnt the basics.
Apart from achieving a particular state of muscle relaxation, these techniques can be
particularly useful for problems related to stress, anxiety and painful conditions
like epilepsy and asthma. Deep, regular breathing actually allows you to reduce the
acidity in your blood, and to optimise the oxygenation of the body, reducing the level of
carbonic gas in the body.
There are two principle methods of deep muscle relaxation;
the method known as Jacobson and the Benson method.
The Jacobson method:
Edmund Jacobson, an American doctor, developed the “Progressive muscle relaxation” technique
in the 1920s and it’s still popular with modern physical therapists.
It involves the purposeful tensing and subsequent relaxing of muscle groups – in the arms, legs, face,
neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen and back. As warmth and heaviness come into the muscles once relaxed,
this gives an overall feeling of relaxation, and therefore a reduction in anxiety.
The Benson method:
Herbert Benson, another American doctor, was further inspired 30 years later by Eastern tradition
and adapted Jacobson’s PMR method to include a simplified technique accessible to all.
this involves getting to the point of “letting go” completely, thereby achieving a state of relaxation
that allows a person to reach a different level of awareness, close to absolute peace.
This is known as the “Relaxation response” and for Dr Benson, meditation can play a role in reducing stress
and mind-body related illness.
Deep breathing for relaxation
Whatever the method used, mastering deep abdominal breathing can bring benefit.
With such techniques, slow, deep breathing is achieved through the diaphragm,
drawing up from the pit of the stomach.
Practice deep breathing when you are feeling calm, and then you will master it well enough
to use to your benefit if you’re feeling stressed on anxious.
Inhale deeply through the nose, inflating the stomach and keeping your upper body still,
your shoulders and upper chest relaxed.
Then exhale taking twice the time to breathe out, than you did while breathing in.
You can count to yourself in the beginning to pace yourself.
Use your diaphragm (lower chest) to breathe, which will pull your lungs down
and help them to expand fully. In this way a greater quantity of air is expelled
than regular breathing, which only makes use of the upper portion of the lungs.
Put attention to relaxing the top of your body with each expelled breath
PMR could work for you if…
PMR is useful for people suffering from psychosomatic conditions, anxiety,
respiratory trouble and digestive discomfort, as well as cardiac rhythm problems.
It’s a good idea, nevertheless, to take certain precautions, as PMR can be inadvisable
for people with serious psychiatric problems, such as psychosis and severe depression.
Don’t hesitate to speak with your health professional.
Deep breathing is advised for most of the same conditions that can be treated with PMR.
On the other hand, these methods are not suitable for pregnant women, people suffering from
serious heart conditions or neurological disorders.