Passive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique where you focus on all of your muscles being in a relaxed state. This imagining sends signals to the brain to relax your muscles and your brain responds with muscle relaxation. Reducing muscle tension in this way leads to a greater sense of peace and calm. The technique can reduce stress and help you cope in times of stress or with chronic stress.
Preparing for a Passive Relaxation Session
Passive muscle relaxation takes time to learn. Practice for 20 minutes a day and it will become second nature. You can then turn to it for daily relaxation or during times of stress.
To prepare for your session:
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing.
- Choose a quiet, comfortable room, preferably with dim lighting and no distractions.
- Sit, or better yet lie comfortably on your back, and close your eyes.
- Be still in the silence (or be silent in the stillness).
- If stressful thoughts come don't focus on them but let them flow out of your mind.
- Practice and start your session with deep relaxation breathing, an essential part of passive muscle relaxation.
- Remember to breathe deeply, slowly, and relaxed throughout your session.
Be aware that relaxation exercises should not be done during driving or during any activity where you need to stay alert.
During the session, breathe in as you start the thought to relax the muscle and breathe out slowly as you let the muscle relax. Imagine breathing out the tension as you breathe out. This will help you to remove tension and achieve a greater state of relaxation.
To start to relax:
- Take a long, slow deep breath.
- Fill your lungs, hold it in, and then exhale slowly.
- Do this three times to begin to release your tension.
Then in a focused and deliberate way, consciously think of successive muscles as relaxed and softened in the following order:
- Top of your head/scalp
- Forehead and brows
- Base of skull
- Neck, front and back
- Arms, upper and forearms
- Fingers and finger tips
- Upper back and spine
- Abdominal muscles
- Lower back and spine
- Hips and pelvis
- Thighs, front and back
Continue to breathe slowly and deeply. If you sense that any muscle remains tense, think it relaxed. Pay special attention to your shoulders and upper back where muscle tension tends to settle with stress.
Stay in this state for at least another 10 to 15 minutes if you can to imprint this feeling of relaxation in your brain. Now allow yourself to slowly come back to normal awareness.
Calm and Serenity
Appreciate a progressive sense of relaxation as each muscle goes relaxed and limp during your session.
You should now feel a deep sense of relaxation from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. As your body relaxes, repairs and heals, your mind relaxes and soothes.
The Response to Relaxation
Relaxation techniques, such as passive or progressive muscle relaxation (similar to passive muscle relaxation, but where the muscles are tensed prior to relaxation) or meditation, can trigger the relaxation response. This was discovered in the 1970s by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, through research at Harvard. The relaxation response is part of the so-called mind-body connection which can either lead to wellness or trigger disease.
The response to relaxation or meditation increases blood flow to muscles and also causes a decrease in:
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Rate of breathing
- Stress hormones
Many diseases that are stress-related or those worsened by stress can be helped by eliciting the relaxation response. These measurable physiological responses to the relaxation response lead to physical and psychological benefits.
The relaxation response to passive muscle relaxation decreases your risk of several disorders, or recurrences, or help you cope with them including:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
Skin diseases such as psoriasis
Bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome
Musculoskeletal such as arthritis
Drug and alcohol abuse
It can also help you manage the pain of childbirth.
Practicing muscle relaxation will help you cope better with:
- Acute or chronic stress
- Panic attacks
- Other psychological disorders
- Sleep disorders
If you have difficulty with your sleep, practice passive muscle relaxation when you go to bed. This will often help you fall asleep and stay asleep as well as improve your sleep quality.
Relax the Body
Studies in normal muscle physiology show that muscles respond to conscious or subconscious signals to tense or relax. We subconsciously respond to stress or threat by tensing muscles in preparation for the fight-flight response to danger. We can consciously send a signal to the brain to relax in times of stress, instead of the natural tendency to tense up to fight it.
Passive muscle relaxation relaxes the body, and in turn, the mind and reduces your natural response to stress and helps you cope better.