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Excerpted from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay. Copyright © 2000 by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay. Excerpted by permission of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"With practice, you’ll find that mental focus alone is enough to drain your muscles of their tension."

  Martha Davis, Elizabeth R. Eshelman, and Matthew McKay, The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Part 1

Applied relaxation training involves learning five separate stages. Each stage builds on the one before it, so be sure to follow all five stages in their listed order.

You may find it useful to record a tape to guide yourself through the exercises that follow. A tape will help you focus on relaxing your body and free you to close your eyes.

To make a tape, use the instructions for each step as your script. Speak in a slow, even voice and be sure not to rush through the process. (Chapter 11 offers some additional tips on recording relaxation exercises.) If you’d prefer to order a prerecorded tape, a few are listed at the end of this chapter.

1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation will help you recognize the difference between tension and relaxation in each of the major muscle groups. Surprising as it may sound, these distinctions are easy to overlook. Once you can really feel the difference between a tense muscle and a deeply relaxed one, you will be able to identify your chronic trouble spots and consciously rid them of their locked-in tension. You will also be able to bring your muscles to a deeper state of relaxation after you relax them than you could have if you hadn’t tensed them first. Follow the instructions under Basic Procedure described in chapter 4. Give yourself one to two weeks to master the technique, with two fifteen minute practice sessions per day. Your goal should be to relax your entire body in one fifteen-to-twenty-minute session.

2. Release-Only Relaxation

Now that you’ve felt the difference between tensing and relaxing each muscle group, you’re ready to move on to the next stage of applied relaxation training. As you might guess from its name, release-only relaxation cuts out the first step in progressive muscle relaxation: the tensing step. This means that you can cut the time down by half (or more) that you need to achieve deep relaxation in each muscle group.

With practice, you’ll find that mental focus alone is enough to drain your muscles of their tension, with no need for you to tense them first. Developing this skill depends on your ability to recognize the difference between clenched muscles and deeply relaxed ones. Be sure that you’re comfortable with progressive muscle relaxation before you begin the following release-only instructions.

A. Sit in a comfortable chair with your arms at your side and move around a bit until you’re comfortable.

B. Begin to focus on your breathing. Breathe in deeply and feel the pure air fill your stomach, your lower chest, and your upper chest. Hold your breath for a moment as you sit up straighter . . . and then breathe out slowly through your mouth, feeling all tension and worry blow out in a stream. After you’ve exhaled completely, relax your stomach and your chest. Continue to take full, calm, even breaths, noticing that you become more relaxed with each breath.

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