About Muscle Relaxation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Skeletal muscles function to move you, maintain posture and produce heat. Contracting is how they bring about motion. Tensing gets them ready for action. And relaxing is a time for nutrient recovery and waste removal (their homeostatic state). A psychologically hectic existence can create too much tension and not enough relaxation.

Muscle tension is a natural response to stress. Be it a physical threat (fight or flight) or mental anguish (anxiety), your muscles will tense up. Chronic stress causes low level tension and you likely won’t even notice. But maintaining this state is very tiring and leads to muscle pain. For example, do your neck and shoulders ever ache? This discomfort commonly emerges from prolonged muscle tension.

To keep your muscles in healthy working condition you need to discover a way to relax them. One way is to tap into your mind body connection. Mindful meditation that focuses on calming your breathing and body can activate the muscle relaxation response.

Can’t seem to focus on yourself? Then get moving. Movement helps use up the cortisol initiated energy that spills over in times of stress. And helps quiet the mind. Tension prepares your muscles for action and taking action brings them around to relaxation. Besides tension relief, the overall health benefits due to physical activity are enormous.

Not in a good position to concentrate nor move? There is a relaxation technique you can do on the fly, it’s formally known as progressive muscle relaxation. With this method you’ll actually use tension for muscle relaxation, but the tensing is purposeful.

Progressive muscle relaxation goes something like this. First, target a muscle group (e.g. shoulders or front thigh) and intentionally tense them up for a hold of about 5 seconds. Then release and focus on how your muscles feel. Relaxed? Not only will this exercise help reduce muscle tension, but may also assist with abdominal pain (ulcers), sleep and headaches (hypertension).

Despite all the talk about finding a quiet, comfortable place to perform progressive muscle relaxation, this method can be performed anywhere, anytime. So tighten up, hold and release whenever needed.