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What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)?

Updated on March 22, 2015

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation | Source

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (or PMR) is an established and effective relaxation technique that functions to produce an overall state of both bodily and mental relaxation through the collective release of muscular tensions built up and held throughout the body. This technique was first developed and used in the 1920s by an American Physician called Edmund Jacobson.

Whilst some practice and familiarity with the technique of muscular relaxation is required to maximize the results, PMR is in essence a relatively straight forward procedure whereby an individual sequentially and systematically tenses and relaxes the various major muscle groups of the body. The overall purpose of progressive muscle relaxation being to produce a deep relaxation response throughout the body, a relaxation response that hopefully will also be mirrored or reflected by a similar relaxation response within the mind.

Benefits of PMR

Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques have been shown to be associated with:

  • Increasing relaxation both mental and physical by reducing overall stress and muscular tension.Studies have also found PMR to both reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress and to reduce heart rate which is associated with greater relaxation

  • Alleviating anxiety which in turn can help reduce many of the symptoms of various medical and psychological conditions

  • PMT can be an effective tool at calming and deactivating the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, a response which is regularly triggered in people who suffer from panic attacks or intense phobic reactions

  • Improving people’s ability to fall asleep. Stiff or tense muscles can make it difficult for people to relax and get comfortable enough to drift off to sleep. PMT will help to release muscle stiffness and tension which thereby allows the body to relax. Once the body is more relaxed the mind has a much easier time following suit and sleep becomes easier

  • Improving self esteem.An increased sense of self esteem is associated with the improved ability and confidence in managing and controlling one's mood that comes from becoming more competent in using progressive muscular relaxation

  • An improved ability to focus and concentrate

PMR Technique Demo

Muscle Relaxation Techniques

The logic behind the technique of progressive muscle relaxation is simply based on Dr. Jacobson's observations that intentionally tensing and holding muscle contractions for several seconds before releasing the tension is associated with a subsequent relaxation response within the muscles contracted.When this technique is sequentially repeated across the body's different muscle groups the result is an overall experience of deep relaxation.

The process is the same for each muscle group:

  • Contract and hold each muscle contraction for 8 to 10 seconds.The strength of the contraction should be hard but not to the extent that it causes pain or excessive discomfort
  • Release the contraction quickly and completely allowing the muscle or muscles to go limp and fully relaxed.This should produce a relatively or contrastingly pleasant sensation after having held a sustained and firm contraction
  • Remain as relaxed as possible for 15 to 20 seconds before moving on to the next muscle contraction
  • Repeat and continue through the different muscle groups to complete the full sequence.If you feel the need or have the time go ahead and repeat the entire sequence again or zoom in on particular tensions and perform 2 or 3 more contraction/relaxations for the particular muscle group concerned.The entire sequence should take approximately 20 minutes

Progressive Muscular Relaxation

Progressive Muscular Relaxation
Progressive Muscular Relaxation | Source

PMR: A Short Video Summary

Whether contracting or relaxing muscles you should keep your breathing slow and even whilst trying to maintain the focus of your attention fully on how each sensation feels.Particular attention should be given to the contrast between the contraction of a muscle and the subsequent relaxation of said muscle.Developing this awareness will allow you to become more adept at identifying where you're holding particular tensions and allow you to more effectively target in and release tension from specific trouble areas

You can find many different examples of progressive muscular relaxation scripts online that will take you through a detailed run down of each step in the more commonly practiced PMR sequences.Most of these scripts involve a sequence that starts with the hands, works up through the muscles of the arms, shoulders and neck and then on to the muscles of the face before focusing on your breathing and running down through the muscles of the back and abdomen and from there on in to the muscles of the buttocks, thighs, calves, feet and finally toes.Other scripts have you run directly from head to toe or the other way round. Some people may find one particular sequence or direction works better for them than another but this isn't usually an issue.

PMT: Tips & Guidelines

  • When practicing progressive relaxation it's important to be both comfortable and free from any potential distractions.Make sure that both your immediate surroundings and your clothing are such that you can be comfortable and capable of physically relaxing in.Pick a time and a place were you will have peace and quiet and be unlikely to be disturbed.Take a minute or two to ensure you do actually feel comfortable before you begin
  • Try to set aside at least 20 minutes per day for PMT.If possible it works well to do this at the same time each day.Your body will then more readily become accustomed and conditioned to slipping into relaxation mode at a particular time as part of your regular daily routine.Commiting to a set time will remove the uncertainty of when and where you might fit your practice into your busy day and you will quickly come to look forward to your progressive muscle relaxtion sessions.Remember there's nothing to stop you adding in some extra sessions whenever the opportunity arises but what's most important is that you do give yourself permission to take this time out and allow yourself to put aside your everyday concerns and worries (even if it is only for 20 minutes)
  • Don’t rush for results or give up your efforts too early. It takes a little time and practice to become proficient in using PMR. Some people may find it initially tricky to truly isolate and focus on the tensing and relaxing of individual muscle groups for instance.They may unintentionally tense the muscles of the upper arm and shoulders whilst contracting the muscles of the hands and forearm. Rest assured however that with practice the ability to both direct mental focus and more clearly discriminate and separate the tensing and relaxing of discrete muscle groups will improve significantly over a relatively short period of time

  • Don't force or judge how you're doing or whether you're getting it right etc.As long as you can tense and relax a muscle you can master the practice of progressive muscular relaxation.Trust that it works and just allow it to happen. It's best to try to maintain a detached and non-critical attitude

Progressive Relaxation

Have you ever tried Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

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Guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation


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    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 4 years ago

      Thanks for the comment tirelesstraveler, hope it helps.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Sound good, I think I will try this right now. Good night.

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 4 years ago

      Life can have a way of doing that sometimes but it's always good to be reminded of something useful that we used to do or already knew. Best of luck Nell & thanks for dropping by :-)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      I used to do something like this with a tape called awakened dreaming, it took me through relaxation and it was great, interesting stuff, and something I really should start to do again, why did I ever forget to do it? lol! nell

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 5 years ago

      Thanks for your comment and votes Gary, much appreciated. It's definitely an effective, useful and actionable technique. Glad to hear it's been helpful with your service users over the years.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      A polished account of an effective relaxation technique that I have used with many of my mental health service users over years.

      Voted up.

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 5 years ago

      Your most welcome.Thank you very much for your comment, votes and share innerspin, i'm glad to hear you like it. I think we all benefit from being reminded of things from time to time. I've often read good advice in hubs that reminded me of something i already knew but somehow managed to slip from my mind or daily practice for some time.Routines can definitely help reduce the slippage rate somewhat :-)

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Rob, you may link away; appreciate you doing so.

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 5 years ago

      Thanks for the votes and share L.L. Much appreciated.I'd be delighted for you to add a link from your own hub and would be happy to do likewise from here to yours, if that's ok with you.

    • innerspin profile image

      Kim Kennedy 5 years ago from uk

      Aaaah. Relax. I love this method, it's always good to have a reminder. Hypnosis relaxation often includes PMR, I have a couple of CDs that are great. So why don't I use them when stressed? Sadly, I'm human, and it slips my mind. Having a routine is a great prompt to use this method. Thanks, Rob. Voted up, useful and shared.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I think this sounds and looks like an effective technique to manage stress. I hope you won't mind if I add a link to this hub in my own about stress relief.

      Voted up and Shared.

    • Rob Winters profile image

      Rob Winters 5 years ago

      Thanks Christy, glad you liked it :-)

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Very neat to learn more about this health area. Vote interesting for sure!