Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) deeply relaxes your body and counters the effects of stress. This stress management technique is a relaxation exercise that systematically tenses and relaxes muscles.

How often do you hear someone tell you, “Just relax”? It may be the dentist when you tense in fear, or the suggestion from a colleague or family member as you express your work or home frustrations?

Many people tell us to relax but never tell us how to do it.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that was developed by Dr Jacobson in the 1920’s.

This technique counters the fight or flight response by activating the relaxation response.

PMR does this by tensing and relaxing various muscle groups while maintaining the rest of the body in a state of relaxation.

Jacobson found that initial activation of a muscle group then allowed greater relaxation of that group compared to simple relaxation without the initial activation.

Getting to the Cause of Stress

To control stress you need to know your causes of stress and stress symptoms.

Fill out our stress causes diary and get objective information on your stress signature today!

PMR works by tensing a muscle group for 5-10 seconds and then letting the muscle group relax completely for 20-30 seconds.

Try to concentrate on tensing and then relaxing the muscle group completely.

Review the directions below to guide yourself through the progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

One of the most common mistakes that beginners make is that they proceed too quickly. The entire process should take 20-25 minutes.

Overview of the basic PMR technique

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down.
  2. Separately tense each muscle group for about 5 seconds.

    A good way to do this is to say to yourself “Tense, tense, tense” when tensing your muscles as you breathe in.

  3. Release the tension slowly for about 20 seconds.
  4. A good way to do this is to say to yourself slowly “Relax and let go, Relax and let go, Relax and let go” as you breathe out.

  5. The advantage of using these cue words is that when progressive muscle relaxation is mastered, thinking of these cue words triggers the relaxation response.

Stress and Health

Stress and health are closely connected. Too much stress for too long can lead to fatigue and burnout.

Medical professionals estimate that 75-85% of illness is precipitated or aggravated by stress.

PMR is a stress management technique that counters the stress response.


PMR exercises

progressive muscle relaxation

  1. Face squeeze. Scrunch up your face by wrinkling your forehead, clenching your jaw, closing your eyes tightly for 5 seconds. Relax and let go completely for 20 seconds, allowing your facial muscles to smooth out. Do this twice.
  2. Front of neck squeeze. Gently push your head forward, slightly squeezing the front of your neck. Relax and let yourself release excess muscle tension for 20 seconds. Do this twice.
  3. Shoulder squeeze. Shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Relax and let yourself release excess muscle tension for 20 seconds. Do this twice.
  4. Arm squeeze. Curl your right arm up so that your hand approaches your shoulder. Flex your bicep for 5 seconds. Relax your right arm and relax completely for 20 seconds. The arm should rest on your leg or lap. Do this twice for the right arm and twice for the left arm.
  5. Arm side squeeze. Squeeze your right arm into the side of your body, as though squeezing a ball under your arm pit. Tense your right arm for 5 seconds. Relax your right arm and relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice for the right arm and twice for the left arm.
  6. Hand squeeze. Make a tight fist with your right hand for 5 seconds. Relax your right hand and relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice for the right hand and twice for the left hand.
  7. Chest and stomach squeeze. Gently tighten the chest and stomach in a way that is comfortable for you. Relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice.
  8. Back squeeze. Tighten the muscles in your back by either squeezing your shoulders together – as though you are scratching an itch, or by pushing your lower back into the chair. Tense for 5 seconds and then relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice.
  9. Buttock squeeze. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks for 5 seconds and then relax and go completely limp for 20 seconds. Do this twice.
  10. Upper leg squeeze. Tighten the muscles in your upper leg for 5 seconds and then relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice for each leg.
  11. Lower leg squeeze. Tighten the muscles in your lower leg for 5 seconds and then relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice for each leg.
  12. Foot squeeze. Tighten the muscles in your foot by either bringing your toes up as if to touch your knees, or by curling your toes under as if to touch the sole of your foot. Tense for 5 seconds and then relax completely for 20 seconds. Do this twice for each foot.

Progressive muscle relaxation deeply relaxes the body and counters the effects of stress.

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More stress management articles

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Definition of Stress: A Contemporary Stress Definition

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Biofeedback Techniques: Biofeedback Machines to Reduce Stress





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