Muscle Relaxation

Muscle tension is one of the body’s reactions to stress, fear, and anxiety. Our brain picks up on a potentially dangerous situation and sends signals to our bodies to prepare to fight or run away (often called the fight or flight response). This stems back to our initial development as human beings when this response increased our chances of survival. In our modern lives, our brain perceives various situations as dangerous when they are not. This may include an argument with a loved one, an overwhelming day at the office, or feeling rushed to make an appointment. We may not even notice our bodies become tense in these situations but afterwards suffer from tightness, aches, and pain. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique which can be used to release this tension and help your body feel more at ease.

What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a method of reducing muscle tension. During the exercise, you are prompted to tense individual muscles and then relax them. As you move through all areas of the body the intent is to feel looseness and a sense of relaxation take the place of tension or soreness.

Preparing for Relaxation

When starting Progressive Muscle Relaxation keep in mind the following:

– Physical injuries: Consult a doctor if you have current or past injuries that may be inflamed by this practice.

– Choose your surroundings: Find a quiet, private place where you can be comfortable. This practice is usually done lying down or sitting in a supportive chair.

– Internal mechanics: Avoid practicing after a large meal, consuming alcohol or other substances.

General Guidelines

1. Once you are in a comfortable position take a few slow, deep breaths and give yourself permission to relax.

2. Choose an area of the body to tense first. Start either from the top of the body with the face, neck, and shoulders or bottom of the body starting with the feet, calves, and thighs. Work your way up or down, focusing on the major sections of the body in sequence. Tense your chosen muscle so that you feel the sensation, but not so much that you are in pain. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.

3. Relax the muscle and keep it relaxed as you move along to other areas. Welcome anything that comes up during the exercise. It is not uncommon to notice emotions coming to the surface as you tense and release your muscles.

4. When you have moved through all areas of your body, remain seated or lying down for a few moments. Focus on how your body feels and if anything is different from when you started.

With any new technique, the more you practice the more you will notice the benefits. Try integrating Progressive Muscle Relaxation into your daily routine and see how your muscles respond.

Where can I find examples and guided exercises?

There are many guided recordings of Progressive Muscle Relaxation available. Start by looking through examples on YouTube or relaxation apps such as Insight Timer or Calm. With numerous recordings available, you can tailor the voice of the speaker, music, and visuals to suit your individual personality and needs.

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Written by Cat Zydyk


Centre for Clinical Interventions. (2023). Progressive Muscle Relaxation.—Information-Sheets/Anxiety-Information-Sheet—09—Progressive-Muscle-Relaxation.pdf

Nagoski, E., & Nagoski, A. (2019). Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle. Ballantine Books.

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