Progressive muscle relaxations are some of our favorite practices to teach students and teachers, teaching you how to relax your muscles through a two step process. First, you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. This exercise will help you to lower your overall tension and stress levels, and can help you relax when you are feeling anxious, strained or restless.
People are often so tense throughout the day that they don’t even recognize what being relaxed feels like. The tension becomes the normal default state. Through practice, you can learn to distinguish between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a completely relaxed muscle. By tensing and releasing, you learn not only what relaxation feels like, but also to recognize when you are starting to get tense during the day.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, then close your eyes and let your body go loose. You can lie down, but this will increase your chances of falling asleep. Although relaxing before bed can improve your sleep, the goal of this exercise is to learn to relax while awake. Take about five slow, deep breaths before you begin.
Step 1: Tension
The first step is to tense a specific part of the body. Take a slow, deep breath and squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 5 seconds. It is important to really feel the tension in the muscles, which may even cause a bit of discomfort or shaking. It is easy to accidentally tense other surrounding muscles (for example, the shoulder or arm while tensing the hands), so try to only tense the muscles you are targeting.
Step 2: Relaxing the Tense Muscles
Quickly relax the tensed muscles. After about 5 seconds, let all the tightness flow out of the tensed muscles. Exhale as you do this step. Feel the muscles become loose and limp, as the tension flows out. Notice the difference between the tension and relaxation.
Remain in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds, and then move on to the next muscle group. Repeat the tension- relaxation steps. After completing all of the muscle groups, take some time to enjoy the deep state of relaxation
• Feet – Point toes and curl them under
• Lower legs and feet – tighten your calf muscles by pulling toes toward you
• Entire Leg- squeeze tight muscles, calf muscles and feet.
• Buttocks – tense in towards each other
• Stomach: suck stomach in
• Chest: Take a deep breath in and hold it for a few seconds
• Neck and shoulders- squeeze shoulder up to ears and then release down the back
• Upper arms – Bend arms at elbows and flex biceps
• Forearms and hands – Extend arm, elbows locked, and flex hands back at the wrists
• Hands – Clench fists
• Jaw – open mouth wide and stick out tongue
• Mouth – press lips tightly together
• Eyes – close eyes tightly, hold and release
• Forehead – wrinkle forehead into frown, tense, release, rest, and/or raise eyebrows
Short on time? You can practice this very short abbreviated practice which will take only a few minutes by tensing larger groups of muscles together.
Quick Tense & Relax
• Lower Limbs (feet and legs)
• Stomach and Chest
• Arms, shoulders and neck
• Were you able to notice the difference between a tense muscle and a relaxed muscle?
• How did your body feel at the end of the relaxation?
• Did you experience any particular emotions during the exercise?
Join the practice using the video below:
Mayuri Gonzalez is a nationally recognized presenter, trainer and instructor in mindfulness and children’s yoga, leading teacher trainings and continuing education seminars at renowned retreat centers such as The Omega Institute and IONS Earthrise Center. She has more than 25 years of experience practicing yoga and mindfulness, and provides therapeutic yoga classes to children and families as well as teaching yoga and mindfulness classes in schools and community centers. In her role as director of the School Yoga Project, (a Little Flower Yoga program that brings yoga and mindfulness classes to over 2000 children a week in New York City schools), Mayuri trains and mentors teachers, counselors and school support staff. She is a contributing author to Transforming Education: Best Practices for Yoga in Schools, a white book to be published by the Yoga Service Council in Fall of 2015, as well as author of the upcoming book Little Flower Chair Yoga: A Sustainable Approach (2016). As an active member of the Yoga Service Council and the International Association for Yoga Therapists, Mayuri maintains a strong community of support and a commitment to continuous learning.