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Teaching Yourself to Relax

You can quickly relax your mind and body anytime, anywhere by putting in place a relaxation response habit.

Getting Started

Find a quiet, comfortable place where you feel safe and you won’t be disturbed. Tell people you don’t want to be disturbed, put out a DO NOT DISTURB sign, shut off your cell phone.

Get comfortable in a chair that supports your back, neck and arms, sitting in an upright position with both feet on the floor and arms at your side and hands in your lap. Cover yourself with a blanket, loosen belts, etc.

This exercise can be done sitting up or lying down. When you lie down, however, as you relax you might fall asleep. Falling asleep might be what you need, but to get the most benefit from this exercise it is helpful to remain awake. A recliner works nicely.

Breathing that is Relaxing

Close your eyes and begin breathing slowly and evenly. Begin by just focusing on your breathing. Most of us take little short breaths and never fill our lungs. This shallow breathing does not relax us.  Breathe deeply, filling your lungs with air. Notice your stomach area expand as the lungs fill with air. Practice breathing deeply like this until it feels comfortable.  Breathe in slowly through the nose, hold for just a second and then slowly let it out.   

As you sit with your eyes closed, breathing in and out, notice how much calmer and relaxed you begin to feel simply by breathing effectively. Practice this for awhile until your breathing becomes even more relaxing.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

The next phase of this exercise is to progressively relax the different parts of your body. I like to start from the head and work my way down.

Tighten the muscles around the eyes and forehead. Feel the tension. Then take a deep calming breath and as you let the air out, relax all the muscles that you have tensed. Next tense the jaw and cheek muscles, take a breath and then release both tension and air.

Continue relaxing the different muscle groups, continuing with your neck, shoulders, back, arms and fingers, stomach area, hips, legs and feet. Follow the same sequence of “tense, breathe and relax”.

Now choose one of the following phrases to say to your self as you follow this sequence. As you breathe out say, Letting go” or “I am relaxing more and more” or “I am relaxing deeper and deeper” or “All my tension is melting away”. Alternate them as you systematically relax your body.

By pairing the tensing of muscles and relaxing breathing along with words that tell your brain you are letting go of tension and stress, you are associating the words or phrases with the actions of the relaxation process.

After you have relaxed your entire body, take a moment and focus inward, relaxing your internal organs as well.

Enjoy this relaxed state for a few minutes. Then open your eyes.  But before you resume your activities, take a moment to allow your body to energize again before getting up. Stretch your arms and move in your chair.

When you have done this exercise every day for a few weeks you will be able to relax the tension in your body anytime anywhere by simply taking some slow even breaths, focus on the areas of the body where the tension is and telling yourself “letting go”. When I do this, I can immediately feel the tension drain away. Using my teaching Relaxation CD allows you to just listen and follow. 

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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