Relaxation Response Exercise

Happy Sunday! If you live in Canada like I do, it’s a long weekend, so today is like a second Saturday. Here is an exercise to help you relax. This exercise was adapted from Herbert Benson’s book The Relaxation Response. Essentially, this exercise combines a focusing mantra with a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

It’s best to be in a quiet space if possible, wearing loose, comfortable clothing.

Sit quietly, or lie down. Adjust your body position for maximum comfort, keeping your legs and arms uncrossed.

​Close your eyes.

​Breathe through your nose

(maintain an awareness of your breath).

Breath slowly.

Each time you exhale say “one” silently to yourself.

Do not count your breaths.

If you find the word one distracting, use a word (or sound) that has no meaning for you.

Breathe like this for 10 to 20 minutes while you move your awareness through your body, relaxing your muscles one at a time until your entire body is relaxed.

Start at the feet.

Direct your awareness at the muscles in your feet and relax them.

Now, notice your calves.

Breathe in and feel the oxygen loosening your calves.

Then shift up to your knees.

Take another deep breath and release the tension in your knees.

And then your thighs, release tension there.

Notice your hips.

Take another deep breath in and notice your deepest pelvic muscles relax.

In hale and feel your back. Notice any tension you’re holding there.

On the next deep breath, imagine exhaling out and releasing the tension in your back.

Now notice your hands becoming warm and heavy and relaxed.

As your awareness moves up your forearms and biceps, you feel your arms become heavy and relaxed.

Feel your shoulders drop as you continue to relax and breathe quietly while you move your awareness up you body.

Notice the tension in your neck.

In hale deeply, and decide to release the tension in your neck.

Feel your jaw loosen.

Notice the tension in the back of your head and imagine it release on your next exhale.

Now feel your cheek muscles, and all the little muscles around your eyes flatten, and loosen and relax.

Continue breathing, and as you continue breathing, feel your forehead smooth and relax.

Take another deep breath and feel the last muscles in the top of your skull loosen, and be completely relaxed, comfortable and at peace.

Sit quietly for another few minutes.

Then, open your eyes and continue to sit for another 2-3 minutes.

Don’t worry if you feel like you haven’t reached a state of deep relaxation. You will still experience benefits. If you find yourself questioning the depth of your relaxation, return to repeating “one” and breathing.

This exercise can be done virtually anywhere or any when. However, please don’t do this exercise while driving or operating machinery because it can impair your fitness to drive. Cool? Safety first.

I suggest you practice this once a day, or whenever you feel anxious, stressed, unhappy, etc. This is a simple yet powerful exercise that you can do moving from toe-to-head, or from head-to-toe. It really doesn’t matter which way you go. It’s all still relaxing.

The benefits of progressive muscle relaxation have been well-documented. Go to Google Scholar and type in “progressive muscle relaxation” if you want more information.

Combining progressive muscle relaxation (or PMR, as it’s sometimes called) with a focusing mantra like the word “one” really helps to keep you in the present moment, mindful, and aware. This fantastic, simple exercise can really help you develop greater awareness. Awareness is the point from which all choice and personal change begins, so please don’t underestimate the power of this simple exercise.

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