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 “Muscular tension is your body’s way of letting you know you are under stress….when you experience stress you tense your body.”  (1)

When stress is short-lived, your body relaxes again, but when stress is ongoing, certain muscle groups in your body become chronically tensed.

Do a quick “body scan.” Do you carry your tension in your neck? Jaw? Shoulders? Upper back? Lower back? Upper thighs? Feet?  Multiple places?

To reduce accumulated tension such as you have just identified, Edmund Jacobson developed a technique he called “progressive relaxation.” (2)

The basic technique involves tensing a group of muscles, then letting that muscle group completely relax, then moving on to the next group of muscles until all the major muscle groups in the body are relaxed.  Jacobson found that first tensing the muscles and thenletting them relax is more effective than just “telling your muscles to relax” with your mind.  Experts suggest that tensing and relaxing the same group of muscles two times in a row is most effective.

If you find yourself carrying tension, or experiencing head, neck, shoulder, or back aches, you would profit from Progressive Muscle Relaxation. (3) The technique is not difficult:

Lie down on a bed, on the floor, or stretch out in a comfortable chair.

Make sure your clothing is not restrictive.  Begin by breathing in and out

slowly and deeply. Then tighten up each of the muscle groups listed below,

one at a time: tighten the muscle group, then allow it to relax.

Do each group twice.  Begin with the muscles in your face, jaw and neck.

(E.g., “scrunch up” the muscles around your eyes, then relax. Make your

jaw tense and hard, then relax….) Work your way from your head, face

and neck “down” through the whole body.

            Continue by first tensing, then relaxing, two times each, your:

                        –face: eyes and jaw                            –neck

                        –muscles in your right arm                 –muscles in your left arm

                        –chest, front and back                        –lower back

                        –abdomen                                          –upper legs

                        –lower legs                                         –ankles and feet

After you have tightened and relaxed all muscle groups twice, lie still

and enjoy the feeling of relaxation and reduced tension.

It is not very effective to try to tense your muscles and then relax them while holding a piece of paper in your hand and having to glance at it between relaxing muscle groups. It works much better to have someone else read the instructions to you, slowly, in a calm and quiet voice. Or you could make a recording for yourself to listen to as you relax: be sure to speak slowly enough to allow for genuine relaxation. Or, just memorize what needs to be done, keep your eyes closed and proceed.

Excellent results are achieved by doing progressive muscle relaxation procedure in just fifteen minutes per day.  Some people do the muscle relaxation as they go to sleep at night.

Once you have begun to notice where you carry tension in your body, you can reduce cumulative tension by pausing several times a day to simply notice that your muscles are tense.  Then allow them to relax and thereby avoid a build-up of tension.

  1. The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. Martha Davis, Elizabeth Eshelman, Matthew McKay. New Harbinger Publications. 1982.

  1. Ibid. page 17.

  1. Ibid. Pages 23-27.