Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR involves tensing and relaxing, in succession, sixteen different muscle groups of the body.
The idea is to tense each muscle group hard (but not so hard that you strain a muscle) for about 10 seconds and then to let go of it suddenly. You then give yourself 15-20 seconds to relax before moving on to the nest group.
Here’s where the mindfulness aspect comes in.
As you relax, you concentrate on the muscle you have just tensed noticing how the muscle group feels when relaxed in contrast to how it felt when tensed, enjoying the feeling of limpness, before going on to the next group of muscles.
Throughout the exercise, once you have relaxed, maintain your focus on your muscles. When your attention wanders, bring it back to the particular muscle group you’re working on.
Concentrate on what is happening. Feel the build-up of tension in each particular muscle group and then the release.
The PMR Technique in Detail (25 Steps)
- Make sure you are in a place that is quiet and comfortable. Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Use a pillow if you wish. Allow your arms to rest at your sides, palms down.
- Pause for a moment and take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible, until the lungs are completely empty, and breathing in using your diaphragm.
- Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying and your rib cage falling as you breathe out. Notice the rising and falling of your abdomen.
- Notice what thoughts are passing through your mind. Notice what feelings are passing through your body.
- Observe those thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad, and without trying to change them, avoid them, or hold onto them. Simply observe them.
- Notice what it’s like to observe those thoughts and feelings with an attitude of acceptance.
- Clench your fists. Hold for 7-10 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. You may want to count “one-thousand-one”, “one-thousand-two” and so on. Use these same time intervals for all muscle groups.
- Tighten your biceps by drawing your forearms up toward your shoulders and “making a muscle” with both arms. Hold…and then relax.
- Tighten your triceps – the muscles on the underside of your upper arms – by extending your arms out straight and locking your elbows. Hold…then relax.
- Tense the muscles in your forehead by raising your eyebrows as far as you can. Hold… and then relax. Imagine your forehead muscles becoming smooth and limp as they relax.
- Tense the muscles around your eyes by clenching your eyelids tightly shut. Hold… then relax.
- Tighten your jaw by opening your mouth so widely that you stretch the muscles around the hinges of your jaw. Hold… then relax. Let your lips part and allow your jaw to hang loose.
- Tighten the muscles in the back of your neck by pulling your head back, as if you were going to touch your head to your back. Be gentle with this muscle group to avoid injury. Focus only on tensing the muscles in your neck. Hold… then relax. Since this area is often especially tight, it’s good to do this tense-relax cycle twice.
- Take a few deep breaths and tune in to the weight of your head sinking into whatever surface it is resting on.
- Tighten your shoulders by raising them up as if you were going to touch your ears. Hold…then relax.
- Tighten the muscles around your shoulder blades by pushing your shoulder blades back as if you were going to touch them together. Hold the tension in your shoulder blades… then relax. This area is often especially tense so you might repeat this tense-relax sequence twice.
- Tighten the muscles of your chest by taking in a deep breath. Hold for up to 10 seconds…and then release slowly. Imagine any excess tension in your chest flowing away with the exhalation.
- Tighten your stomach muscles by sucking your stomach in. Hold…then release.
- Tighten your lower back by arching it up. Hold then relax. Omit this exercise if you have back pain.
- Tighten your buttocks by pulling them together. Hold…and then relax. Imagine the muscles in your hips going loose and limp.
- Squeeze the muscles in your thighs all the way down to your knees. Hold… and then relax. Feel your thigh muscles smoothing out and relaxing completely.
- Tighten your calf muscles by pulling your toes toward you. Be careful here so as to avoid causing cramps. Hold…and then relax.
- Tighten your feet by curling your toes downward. Hold… and then relax.
- Mentally scan your body for any residual tension. If a particular area remains tense, repeat one or two tense-relax cycles for that group of muscles.
- Now imagine a wave of relaxation slowly spreading throughout your body, starting at your head and gradually penetrating every muscle group all the way down to your toes.
That’s a fairly involved exercise but well worth it.