Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise: Are you suffering from anger, anxiety, or insomnia? Have you tried countless breathing and relaxation exercises to no avail? Progressive Muscle Relaxation may be right for you! Created by physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s, this exercise helps identify clenched muscles, and releases tension, easing you into a full body and mind relaxation.

Before beginning, it is important to create a soothing environment to help you focus your full attention on the exercise. Creating this ritual is especially important if you are working on improving your sleep quality, because this will condition your mind and body that it is time for bed.  Many people have found that a clean, clutter free, organized room creates an atmosphere of tranquility.  The atmosphere can include fresh flowers, plants, scented candles or incense, dim or no lighting, and music (whether meditation, ocean sounds, or whatever evokes a sense of calm).

Once you have set up your relaxing space, it is time to begin the exercise. Assuming you will be in bed during the progressive muscle relaxation exercise, lie down so you are facing the ceiling with your eyes closed. Starting with your toes, clench them towards the balls of your feet as hard as you can. While clenching, slowly breathe in through your nose for 5 counts and hold for 7 counts, all while continue to tighten the pressure on your toes. When exhaling through your mouth for 8 counts, slowly release the pressure in your toes, feeling your feet sink into your bed. Notice how your muscles in your toes have released tension and pressure, and focus on nothing but that sensation.

After unclenching your toes move to your feet, using the same method described earlier. While inhaling, tighten your feet muscles until you can’t add anymore pressure. Then hold your breath, and during the exhale and let your feet sink into the bed. Do this with each body part individually as you move up to your legs, stomach, chest, arms, neck, head, all while repeating the breathing counts and sinking your relaxed muscles into the bed with every exhale. Once every muscle has been worked, it is time to collectively tighten every muscle at the same time, all while breathing in through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth. Let your mind drift into nothingness and your body sink into the bed as your breathing gets slower and deeper with every breath.

This progressive muscle relaxation exercise should be done on a daily basis to give your mind and body a healthy coping skill for releasing anxiety, tension, and/or excess energy.  As you get better at this muscle relaxation technique, try doing it in more challenging situations.  When you practice calming yourself down, you are conditioning yourself to utilize these skills on a subconscious level, which will make it easier to recall during a tense situation. Doing so on a regular basis will also help you lower your heart rate and blood pressure, create focus in uncomfortable situations, and help promote mindfulness and overall calm, thus allowing you to deal with the actual situation at hand. 

Once you have mastered the formal process of progressive muscle relaxation you can incorporate deep breathing and muscle relaxation into your everyday life to ease any angry or anxious thoughts that are creeping into your mind. While this exercise is most effective when done in full, it can be tailored to any length of time and convenience of location you have available. For example, you can clench just your toes tightly in a seated position (while doing your deep breathing), which can help release tension inconspicuously. No matter how you decide to utilize this technique, doing so is a great way to welcome calming thoughts and progressive muscle relaxation. 

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