You can read this script through and then follow the summary. Alternatively, you might put the instructions on an audiotape and listen to them as you practice. You might also have someone read the instructions to you, or you might read them to another person (which is a good way to reinforce your own learning).
Prepare for this strategy by taking off glasses, contact lenses, and/or shoes, and loosening any tight clothing. Lie down in a comfortable place, with your arms at your sides. For comfort, you might wish to place pillows under your knees, the small of the back, and your head. (You can also do this in a seated position, with obvious adaptations of the instructions.) Try to stay alert and avoid sleeping as you practice this relaxation skill (unless, of course, you are practicing this in bed as an aid to sleep). Starting with the feet, we will progressively tense and then deeply relax the major muscle groups of the body. Remember to fully concentrate—first on the sensation of tension, and then on the contrast, the state of relaxation. Tense relatively hard, but always stop short of discomfort or cramps.
1. To begin, please let your eyes close. Notice the gentle, pleasant rhythm of your breathing—the cool, energizing air of the in-breath, and the relaxing release and sinking downward of the out-breath. Remembering your calming word or phrase, take two easy, deep abdominal breaths, saying your calming word or phrase slowly as you breathe in and again as you breathe out. Then return to the gentle rhythm of quiet, normal abdominal breathing. For a moment, notice what your body feels like. Notice any areas of tension in the body and release that tension.
2. When I say tense, I'd like you to point both of your feet and toes at the same time, leaving the legs relaxed. Notice the pulling sensation, or tension, in the calves and the bottoms of the feet. Form a clear mental picture of this tension. Now relax all at once. Feel the relaxation in those same areas. When muscles relax, they elongate, and blood flow through them increases. So you might feel warmth or tingling in areas of your body that you relax. Just let your feet sink into the floor, completely relaxed.
3. Next, pull your toes back toward your head. Ready? Tense. Observe the tension in the muscles below the knee, along the outside of the shins. Now relax all at once and see and feel the difference as those muscles fully relax and warm up.
4. Next, you'll tense the quadricep muscles on the front part of the leg above the knee by straightening your leg and locking your knees. Leave your feet relaxed. Ready? Tense. Concentrate on the pulling in these muscles. See it clearly in your mind. And relax. Scan your quadriceps as you relax. Sense them loosening and warming, as though they are melting.
5. Imagine now that you are lying on your back on a beach blanket. The back of your heels are against the sand, and your toes are pointing toward the sky. Keeping your feet relaxed, imagine pressing the back of the heels into the sand. Ready? Tense. Feel and see the tension along the backs of the entire legs. Now relax as those muscles loosen and relax.
6. ¿4 different set of muscles, those between the upper legs, are tensed when you squeeze your knees together. Ready? Tense. Observe the tension. Then relax and observe the relaxation as you deeply relax, and keep relaxed, all the muscles in the legs as we progress upward. Just let the floor support your relaxed legs.
7. Next you'll squeeze the buttocks, or seat muscles, together while contracting your pelvis muscles. Let your stomach relax as you do this. Ready? Tense. Visualize the tension in these muscles. Then relax and observe what relaxation in those muscles is like— perhaps a pleasantly warm and heavy feeling.
8. Next you'll tense your stomach muscles by imagining your stomach is a large ball and you want to squeeze it into a tiny ball.
Ready? Tense. Shrink your stomach and pull it back toward the spine. Notice the tension there and how tensing these muscles interferes with breathing. Now relax. Let the abdomen warm up and loosen up, freeing your body to breathe in the least fatiguing way. Continue to breathe abdominally as you progress.
9. Now leave your shoulders and buttocks down on the floor as you gently and slowly arch your back. As you do, pull your chest up and toward your chin. You'll observe the tension in the back muscles along both sides of the spine. Now gently and slowly relax as your back sinks into the floor, feeling very warm and relaxed. Study that feeling. Notice where relaxation is experienced.
10. Stabilize the lower back muscles by pressing the lower back against the floor. Ready? Tense. Observe the tension, then relax and observe the relaxation.
11. Prepare to press your shoulders downward, toward your feet, while you press your arms against the sides of your body. Ready? Tense. Feel the tension in the chest, along the sides of the trunk, and along the back of the arms. You may not have been aware of how much tension can be carried in the chest or what that feels like. Relax, and feel those muscles loosen and warm. Realize that you can control and release the tension in your upper body once you are aware of it.
12. Now, shrug your shoulders. Ready? Tense. Pull them up toward your ears and feel the tension above the collarbones and between the shoulder blades, where many headaches originate. Now relax and study the contrast in those muscles.
13. Place your palms down on the floor. Pull your relaxed hands back at the wrists so that the knuckles move back toward your head. Observe the tension on the top of the forearms. Relax and study the contrast.
14. Next, make tight fists and draw them back toward the shoulders as if pulling in the reins on a team of wild horses. See the tension in the fists, forearms, and biceps. Relax and notice the feelings as those muscles go limp and loose. Just let your arms fall back beside your body, palms up. Heavy and limp and warm. Pause here to scan your body and notice how good it feels to give your muscles a break. Allow your entire body to remain relaxed as you move on.
15. Let's learn how to relax the neck muscles, which typically carry much tension. Right now, gradually, slowly turn your head to the right as if looking over your right shoulder. Take ten seconds or longer to rotate the neck. Feel the tension on the right side of the neck pulling your head around. The sensation on the left side is stretching, not tension. Hold the tension for a while to observe it. Then turn your head slowly back to the front and notice the difference as the muscles on the right side of your neck relax. Pause. Turn just as slowly to the left and feel the left side of your neck contract. Rotating back to the front, feel the left side relax.
16. Now press the back of your head gently against the floor, while raising the chin toward the ceiling. Do you notice the tension at the base of the skull, where the skull meets the neck? Much headache pain originates here, too. Study the tension. And relax. Allow those muscles to warm up and elongate. Relax the neck all around and let it remain relaxed.
17. Lift your eyebrows up and furrow your brow. Feel the tension along the forehead. Relax. Imagine a rubber band loosening.
18. Wrinkle up your nose while you squeeze your eyes shut and your eyebrows together. Observe the tension along the sides of the nose, and around and between the eyes. Now deeply relax those areas. Imagine pleasantly cool water washing over the eyes, relaxing them. Your eyelids are as light as a feather.
19. Frown, pulling the corners of the mouth down as far as they'll go. Feel the tension on the sides of the chin and neck. Relax. Feel the warm, deeply relaxing contrast.
20. The jaw muscles are extremely powerful and can carry much tension. When I say tense, clench your jaw. Ready? Tense. Grit your teeth and feel the tension from the angle of the jaw all the way up to the temples. Study the tension. Now relax and enjoy the contrast, realizing that you can control tension here, too. Relax the tongue and let the teeth part slightly.
21. Make a wide smile. Open the mouth wide. Ready? Tense. Grin from ear to ear and feel the muscles around the cheekbones contract. This really requires little effort. Now relax and let all the muscles of the face be soft and completely relaxed.
Allow a pleasant sense of relaxation to surround your body. Imagine that you are floating well supported on a favorite couch, bed, or raft—all your muscles pleasantly relaxed. When you are ready to end this session, count slowly to five, send energy to your limbs, stretch, sit up slowly, and move your limbs before standing slowly.
Practice this once or twice a day for two weeks or more. At first you might be more aware of aches or tension in your muscles. This tends to disappear with practice as those tense muscles get a break and your nerves desensitize. With practice, you'll notice that you can relax your muscles passively, by just reminding yourself to relax them. Some people use a reminder, such as a dot on their watch or a picture on the wall, as a cue to relax their muscles throughout the day.
Try to become increasingly aware of the first signs of tension and then cause those muscles to relax.
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