Breathing, Progressive Muscular Relaxation & The Relaxation Response
This tool introduces three useful physical relaxation techniques that
can help you reduce muscle tension and manage the effects of the fight-or-flight
response on your body. This is particularly important if you need to
think clearly and perform precisely when you are under pressure.
The techniques we
will look at are Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscular Relaxation and
The Relaxation Response.
Using These Techniques:
Deep breathing is a simple, but very effective, method of relaxation.
It is a core component of everything from the "take ten deep breaths"
approach to calming someone down, right through to yoga relaxation and
Zen meditation. It works well in conjunction with other relaxation techniques
such as Progressive Muscular Relaxation, relaxation imagery and meditation
to reduce stress.
To use the technique,
take a number of deep breaths and relax your body further with each
breath. That's all there is to it!
Progressive Muscular Relaxation is useful for relaxing your body when
your muscles are tense.
The idea behind
PMR is that you tense up a group of muscles so that they are as tightly
contracted as possible. Hold them in a state of extreme tension for
a few seconds. Then, relax the muscles to their previous state. Finally,
consciously relax the muscles even further so that you are as relaxed
By tensing your
muscles first, you will probably find that you are able to relax your
muscles more than would be the case if you tried to relax your muscles
PMR by forming a fist, and clenching your hand as tight as you can for
a few seconds. Then relax your hand to its previous tension, and then
consciously relax it again so that it is as loose as possible. You should
feel deep relaxation in your hand muscles.
For maximum relaxation
you can use PMR in conjunction with breathing techniques and imagery.
We mentioned The Relaxation Response in our article on Meditation.
In a series of experiments into various popular meditation techniques,
Dr. Benson established that these techniques had a very real effect
on reducing stress and controlling the fight-or-flight response. Direct
effects included deep relaxation, slowed heartbeat and breathing, reduced
oxygen consumption and increased skin resistance.
This is something
that you can do for yourself by following these steps:
Sit quietly and
Close your eyes.
Start by relaxing the muscles of your feet and work up your body relaxing
Focus your attention on your breathing.
Breathe in deeply and then let your breath out. Count your breaths,
and say the number of the breath as you let it out (this gives you something
to do with your mind, helping you to avoid distraction).
Do this for ten or twenty minutes.
An even more potent
alternative approach is to follow these steps, but to use relaxation
imagery instead of counting breaths in step 5.
Again, you can prove
to yourself that this works using biofeedback equipment.
Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscular Relaxation,
and the steps leading to the Relaxation Response are three
good techniques that can help you to relax your body and manage the
symptoms of the fight-or-flight response.
These are particularly
helpful for handling nerves prior to an important performance, and for
calming down when you are highly stressed.