The following exercises are based on a set introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s; they have stood the test of time. Make a recording of them or get a friend with a calm voice to read them slowly to you. Recordings of similar exercises are available on the Internet, eg Relax and Enjoy It from Lifeskills; but try a friend first as both of you will get something out of it.
When we are tense, stressed or emotional we often say we are uptight. This is literally true because the tension is in our muscles. Tense muscles are tight. Tensing them more and then stopping loosens them up. That’s why we naturally have a good stretch or take a deep breath and let out a slow sigh. The relaxation exercises are based on this simple idea of tensing and then relaxing different muscles throughout our body.
Most people are amazed at how good it feels when they are truly relaxed. Do the exercises as often as you want but, remember the aim of doing them is to become more aware of how muscles feel when they are tense and when they are relaxed. Armed with this awareness we can then go about our daily lives in a more relaxed way. By being less tense we will use less energy and feel fresher and less tired at the end of the day.
First of all make yourself comfortable lying down somewhere quiet. Choose a place where you won’t be disturbed for at least a quarter of an hour. Forget all the other things you’ve got to do. For the moment relaxation is the most important thing. Take two or three deep breaths. Let the air in and out gently and slowly. Make sure you don’t gulp it in or blow it out.
Settle back comfortably. Close your eyes and let yourself relax as much as you can.
Try to clear your mind of anything you’ve been thinking about. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Imagine you are walking down a country lane on a summer evening. The warm breeze carries the scent of newly cut grass. Everything is quite except for the distant sound of children playing in the fields. You feel very relaxed. (Use any other image that works for you>)
As you relax like that clench your right fist. Clench it tighter and tighter. Think about how it feels as you do so. Keep it clenched and feel the tension in your hand and forearm…..And now relax…. Let the finger of your hand become loose….Notice the difference in how it feels.
Let yourself go. Let yourself become more relaxed all over.
Once more clench your right hand really tight. Hold it and notice the tension again…..Now let go. Relax. Let your fingers relax and straighten out. Feel the difference once more.
Now repeat that with your left hand. Clench your fist while the rest of your body relaxes…Clench it tighter and feel the tension……..and now relax….Enjoy the contrast……Repeat it once more. Clench your left fist tight…………..Relax and feel the difference….Continue relaxing like that for a while…….
Now clench both fists at the same time…..Tighter and tighter, fists and forearms tense. Study the sensations………and relax. Let your fingers straighten and become loose. Feel the relaxation….. Continue relaxing your hands and forearms more and more.
Now bend your elbows and tense your upper arms. Tense them harder. Hold the tension and study how it feels………Now let your arms straighten out and let them relax. Let the relaxation develop and become deeper….…..Once more tense your biceps, hold the tension and think about it carefully……..Straighten your arms and relax……Relax as much as you can…. Each time think about your feelings when you tense up and when you relax. Your arms should feel comfortably heavy as you allow them to relax.
Now concentrate on pure relaxation in your arms without any tension. Get your arms comfortable and let them relax further and further….Continue relaxing your arms even further. Even when they seem fully relaxed try to go that extra bit further; try to reach deeper and deeper levels of relaxation. ……Your muscles feel loose and heavy.
Wrinkle up your forehead by raising your eyebrows….Wrinkle it tighter…..and stop. Relax and let your forehead smooth out. Picture your whole forehead and scalp becoming smoother as the relaxation increases………..Now frown as hard as you can and study the tension……..Let go of the tension again…Let your forehead become smooth once more……….Close your eyes, …tighter and tighter. Feel the tension……..and relax your eyes. Let them close gently and comfortably…Notice the relaxation………Now clench your jaws, bite your teeth together…Think how the tension feels……..And relax your jaws. Let your lips part slightly…..Appreciate the relaxation…..Feel the relaxation all over your face,..your forehead…scalp…eyes…and jaws. The relaxation gets deeper.
Now think about your neck muscles. Press your head back as far as it will go and feel the tension in your neck……Roll your head to the right and feel the tension shift. Now roll it to the left……….Straighten your head and bring it forward. Press your chin against your chest…Think about the tension and then let your head return to a comfortable position and study the relaxation. Let it develop further and further…deeper and deeper.
Shrug your shoulders…right up. Hold the tension…….Drop your shoulders and feel them relax….Neck and shoulders relaxed……….Shrug your shoulders again and move them around…up, forward and back…Feel the tension in your shoulders and in your upper back…..drop your shoulders again and relax. Let the relaxation spread deep into your shoulders, right into your back muscles…Relax your neck, your throat, your jaws and face as the pure relaxation takes over and grows deeper.
Relax your whole body as much as you can. Fell the comfortable heaviness that comes with relaxation. Breathe easily. Notice how the relaxation increases as you breathe out…….As you breathe out just feel that relaxation. Now breathe in deeply and fill your lungs, hold your breath…Study the tension……Now breathe out, let the walls of your chest grow loose and push the air out automatically…Continue relaxing and breathe freely and gently….Feel the relaxation and enjoy it…..With the rest of your body as relaxed as possible fill your lungs again. Breathe in deeply and hold it…….Breathe out and appreciate the relief…Just breathe normally…Continue relaxing your chest and let the relaxation spread to your back, shoulders, neck and arms. Just let go and enjoy the relaxation.
Now let’s pay attention to your stomach. Tighten your stomach muscles, make them as hard as you can…Notice the tension…..and relax. Let the muscles loosen and notice the contrast…..Once more tighten your stomach…Hold the tension…..and relax……Now draw your stomach in, pull the muscles right in and think about how it feels…….Now relax again. Let your stomach gently relax. Continue breathing normally and easily and feel the gentle massaging action all over your chest and stomach…..Let the tension dissolve as your relaxation grows deeper. Each time you breathe out notice the rhythmic relaxation in your lungs and stomach. Notice how your chest and stomach relax more and more.
Now think about your lower back. Arch your back…Make it hollow and feel the tension along your spine…..Now relax and settle back comfortably…..Breathe gently…..Arch your back again and feel the tension. Try to keep the rest of your body as relaxed as possible. Try to localise the tension just in your lower back…..Relax once more…..Relaxing further and further…..Relax your lower back…Let the relaxation spread to your stomach, chest, shoulders arms and face….Relax more and more.
Now press your feet and toes downwards away from your face, so your leg muscles become tense…Study the tension…….Relax your feet and legs…….This time bend your feet towards your face so you feel the tension along your shins. Bring your toes right up……..Relax again…Keep relaxing for a while.
Now let yourself relax further all over. Feel the heaviness of your body as you relax even more…..Let go more and more….Keep relaxing more and more deeply….Make sure no tension has crept in anywhere in your body…Let yourself relax.
Now you can become twice as relaxed as you are just by taking in a really, deep breath and slowly breathing out. Take in a long deep breath and let it out very slowly…..Feel how heavy and relaxed you have become.
In a state of deep relaxation you don’t want to move a single muscle in your body. Think about the effort that would be needed to raise your right arm. See if you notice any tension that might have crept into your shoulder and arm. Now you decide not to lift the arm but to continue relaxing. Observe the relief and the disappearance of the tension…..Just carry on relaxing like that. Take as long as you want.
When you want to get up, count backwards from five to one. You should then feel refreshed, wide awake and calm.
Run through the exercises as many times as you like until you understand how it feels to be really relaxed. When you’ve done them a few times lying down try them sitting in a chair. Then move on to doing them standing up. You can’t be completely relaxed standing up but your aim is always to be as relaxed as possible whatever you’re doing.