Looking to dampen the buzzing of thoughts within the mind or perhaps to quiet the murmurs of tension in the body? Struggling to find a technique that helps you let go, calm yourself, and walk away from a sense of physical restlessness? Progressive Muscle Relaxation may be the tool for you.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique specifically developed to aid in the reduction and release of physical tension and stress. Simply put, in PMR you pair focused muscle tensing with breathwork. Inhales are paired with specified muscle contractions while exhales are paired with the releasing of the muscle contraction. PMR practices can range in focus from holding tension in specific areas of the body to more generalized practice for full-body relaxation. This full-body relaxation can enable those practicing PMR to unwind for restorative sleep, dissolve heightened states of awareness, and increase one’s mindfulness.
What Studies Say About Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Since PMR’s formal inception in the 1920s, it has since become a regular tool recommended by a variety of health care providers to alleviate muscle tension and stress. Studies have shown that PMR can cause a nonspecific relaxation response leading to reduced sympathetic nervous arousal; in essence, PMR helps calm our nervous system responsible for our fight or flight response, aiding in our overall sense of relaxation. PMR has been associated with a significant decrease in stress, anxiety, physical tension, and a significant increase in subjective well-being.
These studies have shown that those who practice PMR are able to increase their mindfulness. What does increased mindfulness translate to in one’s wellbeing? Increased mindfulness leads to a state of being less reactive and judgmental of one’s thoughts while staying more present in their day-to-day activities. Further, in PMR practice one’s attention is directed to their muscles during contraction and relaxation. Both relieving physical tension and the encouragement of one’s present moment awareness in their body aids improvement of one’s mindfulness.
If you feel comfortable, take a moment to check in with yourself as you progress through the article.
- Take a moment to notice your seated posture and how your body feels in the posture. Take a deep inhale rolling your shoulders up toward your ears. As you exhale, allow your shoulders to melt away from your ears.
Hopefully, a little movement integrated into your reading has you feeling a bit more comfortable. Let’s continue.
How to Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation
PMR is a highly accessible and simple technique. It requires a guided PMR practice, which can be followed from an audio or video recording or practiced with a PMR facilitator.
The Self-Check-In sections of this article are snippets of some cues you may have in a PMR practice. Here are two guided PMR practice audio recordings:
Practice and Routine
Like many self-care and management techniques, routine practice can lead to the most optimal outcomes. It has been observed that singular PMR sessions can achieve a sense of bodily relaxation, increased mindfulness, as well as decreased muscular tension and stress. Moreover, regular practice of just five sessions of five-minute PMR practice resulted in deep physical relaxation and disengagement, as well as other measures of mindfulness such as joy and mental quiet.
If comfortable for you, while finishing this article take a moment to practice some bodily relaxation and explore PMR.
- Find yourself comfortable in your seated position. Take a deep inhale and clench your fingers into a soft fist. On your exhale gently release index, middle, ring, pinky fingers from the fists.
- Check in and see if you feel the tension in your jaw or if you’re clenching your teeth. If so, gently release tension from the jaw. Remove your tongue from the roof of the mouth if it is resting there.
- Take one last deep inhale, for 3, 2, 1, a moment of pause, and exhale for 3, 2, 1.
- Congratulations – you are well on your way to becoming a PMR practitioner. Take a moment to consider how you feel in this moment following that simple practice.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Benefits and Use
It is evident that PMR is a helpful tool for general bodily relaxation, to decrease muscle tension, stress, and anxiety, as well as improve mindfulness. In addition, PMR can be used as a practice to regulate oneself and wind down for sleep. It holds similar benefits to practices such as yoga stretching, and meditation.
While PMR is an effective practice to care for oneself, at Diversified Rehabilitation Group we encourage the exploration and utilization of a breadth of practices to manage one’s well-being and symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. PMR is one of the many tools we offer, and we acknowledge different practices will benefit individuals differently. To learn more about PMR and how it may fit into your care, discuss it with your healthcare support team.
To speak with a member of our team or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call our offices or visit our contact page to schedule online today!
Author: Stanley Prescott
B.Sc Cell & Developmental Biology