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Progressive Relaxation

Progressive Relaxation

Ever have one of those experiences where you are so relaxed, you felt you could melt right through the lounge chair? Or run an extra mile without any effort? Or laugh off every nuisance that would normally be a deep source of irritation?

Sometimes life feels so good, you want to take it out to dinner, drive it home and tuck it into bed with a kiss on the forehead. Why? Because relaxation is a great pleasure. It also helps us move and think better.

Muscle tension consumes energy inefficiently and decreases circulation, leading to physical aches and pains. Whereas if you can achieve a relaxed state, you can get relief from aches and pains and improve digestion, cardiovascular function and sleep – all of which will improve your mental functioning.

The good news is that you can induce this magic state using a technique called Progressive Relaxation, which consists of alternating 3-5 seconds of tension and 10-15 seconds of relaxation of various muscle groups.

Here’s how:

  • Sit in a chair
  • Lean back and make yourself comfortable.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Lift your toes as high as possible. Hold. Release and let the tension go into the floor. Point your toes. Repeat.
  • Tense the upper part of your legs. Hold. Relax. Feeling your legs against the chair and your feet against the floor. Experience the relaxation.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles . . . then relax. Take a deep breath. Feel the tension in your chest. Exhale and relax. Concentrate on how calm you can get.
  • Make tight fists with your hands and hold for about 5 seconds. Unclench your hands and let the tension flow out, noting how it feels different to relax.
  • Do the same with your upper arms, then your neck. Frown, and then relax. Take a moment to notice any other areas of tension and concentrate on releasing those as well.
  • Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes – you will be totally alert and relaxed!

If you would like a guide to doing this technique check out The Inside Edge audio program by Dr. Peter Jensen on iTunes.

Today's POWER-UP

Practice the progressive relaxation techniques outlined above for five minutes today. I've found the best time to do this is right before I fall asleep while lying in bed. It's incredible how this can help you release tension from the day, calm your mind and set you up for sleep.

Stressed Body Stressed Mind and Vice Versa

Stressed Body Stressed Mind and Vice Versa

Our second technique for controlling your mental state is similar to Act-Think-Feel because it takes advantage of the connection between your body and mind. It’s widely accepted that stress in the mind can lead to stress in the body, but the reverse is also true: stress in the body can lead to stress in the mind.

Take muscle tension as an example. If you tense your muscles for long periods of time, you will begin to feel the effects of that body tension in your mind. Your patience goes down. You are less light-hearted. You become mentally fatigued. Clenched fists have the same effect by triggering your body to start generating anger and upset.

The mind-body link runs both ways, so releasing tension from the body frees the mind from strain and pressure and is a critical physical and mental skill you can learn.

For example, practicing tension release to stop yourself from bracing – a habit of lifting your shoulders and clenching your muscles – can lead to relaxation and improved mental performance by increasing your circulation and energy.

To accomplish this, begin by becoming aware of muscle tightness and body position. Do so by asking yourself several questions:

1. Can I drop my shoulders?
2. Can I relax my hands? Stomach? Legs? Forehead?
3. Can I sit in a more comfortable position?
4. Can I relax my core and deepen my breathing?

Then, when you find an area of tension, use the focus breathing we have worked on already to release the tension and free your body and mind of limitations.

Today's POWER-UP: Practice tension release in the body to open the mind

The key to executing this technique is awareness of your body. You have to recognize when you're tense then stop - and then take 10-15 seconds to practice the tension release technique. Once you get good at this it can happen faster and faster and it will become automatic.