The accumulative effect of everyday living can take its toll on our bodies. Many of us are not even aware of the physical and mental signs of stress. For some, feeling tired and tense is just a “normal” state of being.

But stress which causes muscle tension can interfere with sleep, cause headaches and lead to severe aches and pains. It can make us irritable and increase our blood pressure, eventually leading to more serious health problems.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a method developed in the 1930s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson. It is primarily used to reduce muscle tension and promote mental calm, but it has several other possible benefits, such as helping you get to sleep more quickly.

Studies have shown that it can reduce blood pressure, decrease anger levels and reduce levels of fatigue. If you suffer from stress, it might be worth trying this technique to help reduce aches and pains, and calm your state of mind.

So what exactly is PMR? Basically it involves tensing and then relaxing groups of muscles, and focusing on how this feels. At the end of each session, your muscles should be more relaxed than when you started. And because relaxed muscles need less oxygen, your breathing will be slower, and your heart rate and blood pressure will be lower. You should feel much calmer than before. If you have any injuries or health problems, check with your physician before trying PMR, because it could exacerbate any of these conditions.

To begin with, find a quiet room and lie down comfortably, preferably before you have eaten. Close your eyes. Slowly inhale and exhale. As you inhale, curl your toes until you can feel the tension. Hold it for around 10 seconds. Then exhale and let your toes relax. Focus on the muscle tension and how it melts away. Imagine the stress and tension flowing out of your body as you relax. After 20 seconds move on to the next group of muscles. Flex your feet as you inhale. Feel the tension. Again, exhale and relax your feet. Notice how your breathing has slowed down and deepened. Continue with tensing and relaxing your legs, noticing the feeling of your relaxed muscles. As you move up your body, tense the muscles in your hips, buttocks, chest, abdomen, arms, shoulders and finally your face, pausing in between each set of muscles to relax. When focusing on your face, lift your eyebrows, then tightly close your eyes, and finally tense your lips, cheeks and jaw, relaxing in between each facial exercise. The whole routine should take around 15 minutes. Don’t get up too quickly, as the drop in your blood pressure can cause fainting. Relax for a minute or two before gently standing up, unless you are trying to sleep.

When you focus your mind on this relaxation technique, you are distracted from any negative thoughts. This is an important by-product of the exercise and you should encourage yourself to concentrate on how your body feels during PMR. Practiced daily, you should begin to notice when you are feeling tense and which particular muscles are stiff. If you have trouble sleeping, it can even help you fall asleep more quickly. Try a session next time you get into bed. Audio recordings can also be purchased to help you during these sessions.

Feeling tense at the end of each day because of stress is not your choice, but you can choose to do something about it. Suffering from stress and aching muscles does not have to be an ongoing problem. Perhaps PMR could help you feel less tense and anxious. Whether you are having trouble sleeping, feeling tired and achy, or just need to clear your mind, try PMR and see what you think.

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Pelvic wall – 1st muscles to contract when inhaling

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