Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is the first form of structured relaxation developed in the West. Its originator, Dr. Edmund Jacob-son, demonstrated that when people consciously relaxed their muscles, they became mentally calmer at the same time. Jacobson found, however, that simply trying to relax is only partially effective. One must paradoxically increase muscle tension for a while in order to help the brain to deeply relax the muscles. Thus, Jacobson developed a procedure to progressively tense the major muscle groups of the body, and then deeply relax those same muscle groups. As one progresses from one muscle group to another, the body becomes more and more relaxed (that is, muscle tension progressively decreases). Perhaps more importantly, the nervous system becomes more and more calm. In controlled research, PMR has been found to reduce blood pressure. It is also a very effective treatment for insomnia.1
PMR is a very active form of relaxation. It requires the expenditure of physical energy, and effectively distracts people from angry thoughts. It is effective for relaxing almost everyone who tries it. When anger management programs are short on time, this is the one form of structured relaxation that is most often taught. Thus, we taught this at the Pentagon, along with the breathing exercises described earlier.
Using this strategy, we progressively tense and then relax the major muscle groups of the body. You'll tense for about five to ten seconds, and then relax that same muscle group for at least that long. It is important to fully concentrate on how the states of tension and relaxation feel, and to notice the contrast between these states. PMR is not simply a very effective relaxation exercise; it is also a process of retraining the brain to distinguish between tension and relaxation. Many adults have become used to being chronically tense. As the brain regains the ability to deeply relax the muscles and then detect the first intimation of tension, you will then be able to use this information to catch yourself becoming tense or angry, and then consciously relax.
Was this article helpful?