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Progressive muscle relaxation (PME) is a deep relaxation technique used effectively to control stress and anxiety, eliminate insomnia and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. Progressive muscle relaxation is based on the simple practice of tensing one muscle group at a time and then relaxing immediately afterwards. Physicians have used progressive muscle relaxation in combination with standard treatments to relieve symptoms for a range of conditions including headaches, cancer, high blood pressure and digestive disorders.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PME) is an anxiety reduction technique

By practicing PME you will learn how a relaxed muscle feels different than a tight muscle

Progressive muscle relaxation (PME) - what exactly is it?

This is a relaxation method according to Edmund Jacobson (1888-1983), who published the original method of the method in 1938. His basic assumption was that there is a close interaction between physical and mental tension. Jacobson observed that when people are stressed, restless or anxious, muscle tension increases immediately. From this he concluded that a state of mental or psychological relaxation can also be achieved vice versa by relaxing the muscles.

Dr. Edmund Jacobson (1888-1983)

Progressive muscle relaxation (PME) therefore induces a relaxation response by gradually (progressively) consciously tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. Since the first version in 1938, various experts have revised and improved the relaxation method several times. One of the variants most commonly used today is based on the edits by Bernstein and Borkovec.

PME - conscious tensing and relaxing of different muscle groups

How to practice progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation can be performed lying down or sitting. It's usually easier to start in a lying position, as this is the quickest way to get into a relaxed state. Later you can also try the relaxation technique while sitting to be able to integrate it more easily into your everyday life.

Instructions are usually given by a qualified therapist, but you can also practice on your own at home with the help of audio recordings.

In this technique, tension and relaxation alternate in all major muscle groups of the body

Find a quiet and undisturbed place. Lie on the floor or sit comfortably in a chair

The exercises often start with a short introduction, the so-called relaxation induction. The practitioner is asked to turn their attention inward, close their eyes and calm down with a few deep breaths. Then the gradual contraction and relaxation of the muscle groups begins.

The sequence of exercises is as follows:

  1. Focus your attention on a specific muscle group.
  2. Tense this muscle group after a signal from the therapist.
  3. Hold the tension for about 5 to 10 seconds.
  4. Relax the muscle group on another sign from the therapist.
  5. Focus on the same muscle group for 20-30 seconds to notice the difference between tension and relaxation.

Turn your attention inward and only then focus on the first muscle group

PME can be used to combat stress, restlessness, anxiety and sleep disorders

In the long version of progressive muscle relaxation, the following 16 muscle groups are treated one after the other:

  • Dominant hand and forearm (e.g. for left-handers on the left side)
  • dominant upper arm
  • Non-dominant hand and forearm (e.g. the right side for left-handers)
  • Non-dominant upper arm
  • forehead
  • Upper cheek area and nose
  • Lower cheeks and cheeks
  • Throat and Throat
  • Chest, shoulders and upper back
  • Abs
  • dominant thigh, lower leg and foot
  • Non-dominant thigh, lower leg and foot

Now focus on the following body parts and make sure to keep the rest of your body relaxed

After training all muscle groups, the individual muscles are consciously perceived one after the other to determine whether tension can still be felt. A 2-3 minute rest period usually follows. The PME often ends with a return phase. It is counted from 4 to 1. First the legs are moved and activated at 4, the arms at 3, the trunk at 2 and the eyes are opened again at 1. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.

The relaxation method according to Jacobson can be learned quickly and easily

The 16 muscle groups from the long version can also be combined to create a shorter version with 7 or 4 muscle groups. Here, for example, both hands and forearms are stretched at the same time. Usually you start with the long version and then you can gradually reduce the length of the exercises, but you can also start with the shorter version. This is easier to integrate into everyday life, since only 5 to 10 minutes are sufficient for the short version.

After tension comes relaxation

What do you have to consider with progressive muscle relaxation?

Ideally, you need to practice about 2 times a day for a few minutes. Set a schedule!
The first results are usually only noticeable after 2 weeks of daily practice. Just keep at it!
Start practicing in a quiet room and try to eliminate all sources of disturbance as much as possible.
Stick to the order of the muscle groups and the same order of the exercises. This simplifies the learning process.
Practice in quiet or relaxed situations at the beginning. This will help you to find your own way into the relaxation exercises.
No painful sensations should arise during the tension phase. Existing pain should not be aggravated by the force of tension. So a slight cramp is sufficient!

Let yourself immerse yourself in therapy!

What are the long-term effects of progressive muscle relaxation?

Regular exercise improves overall body awareness. The difference between tense and relaxed muscles becomes more and more apparent as the training progresses. Muscle tension can be recognized early and thus also targeted reduction. The subjective perception of relaxation is also deepened in the course of the training.

Recognize your true body sensation!

You will be able to move from a state of tension or anxiety to a relaxed state more quickly. Over time you will develop a relaxed attitude towards everyday stress and other pressures.

Stress factors such as excessive demands, fears or pain lead to involuntary tension in individual muscle groups. Progressive muscle relaxation is one of the most important relaxation methods to break this cycle. The effectiveness of the procedure has been confirmed in numerous scientific studies. Progressive muscle relaxation is used in many different treatment areas, including multimodal pain management for chronic low back pain.

This is how you learn to deal better with stress in everyday life

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