“Just relax,” “Mellow-out,” “Take a chill-pill…”
That can be some good advice. Both eastern and western medical practices all recognize the toll stress takes on your health. But in these frenetic, 24/7, digital, always on, times, finding ways to relax can be – pretty stressful!
But a friend of mine recently returned from a retreat where he discovered the health benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) – and it’s something I thought I should share with my loyal readers.
PMR is related to other forms of eastern “mind-body” techniques that recognize the deep connection between mental states and physical ailments. Even western science has finally had to accept the idea of this “mind-body connection.” From the well-documented placebo effect found in clinical trials to the indisputable fact that blood pressure rises in response to stress and anxiety, there is undeniable scientific evidence that mental and emotional states do indeed affect our physical health.
One of the most respected researchers into the mind-body connection is Neurobiologist David Felten, M.D, Ph.D. Dr. Felten, who is currently the Associate Dean of Clinical Sciences and Professor of Neurosciences at UMHS, says “Our grandmothers knew all along that our minds and our bodies were connected, even if the scientific community didn’t. We’ve simply provided irrefutable data showing that it’s true.”
What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
PMR is a mind-body technique in which you learn to rhythmically tense and then relax all the specific muscle groups in your body. It is basically a body awareness technique in which you learn to better recognize the feeling of “tension” – and how to “release” it.
Studies have shown that Progressive Muscle Relaxation can:
- Decrease blood pressure
- Control heart rate
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce stress-related overeating
- Reduce stress-related neck and back pain
- Decrease muscle tension
- Decrease soreness in muscles
- Control body aches and pains
How to Do It
First, find yourself a private, peaceful place – free of distractions. Stand or sit in a loose and comfortable position.
Start by tightening the muscles in your face for five seconds by squeezing your eyes shut, wrinkling your forehead, and clenching your jaw.
Then, relax your face and breathe deeply – you will feel the tension release from your face muscles.
Then as the name says – move progressively down and through the rest of your body.
Move through every muscle group: shoulders, arms, hands, back, stomach, buttocks, thighs, and feet. Repeat the tighten-then-release sequence for each muscle group.
By the time you have gone through your entire body – if any muscles still feel tense, tighten and relax that muscle group for at least three more cycles.
Several studies have shown that Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an effective method to reduce stress. Beyond that, there have been studies that show PMR may help improve various unhealthy conditions.
For example, a 2003 study published in the medical journal Psycho-oncology found that PMR reduced stress and anxiety and improved quality of life for colorectal cancer patients who were recovering from surgery.
And, a 2006 study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that PMR was a viable method to lower blood pressure among patients at risk for heart disease.
According to WebMD, “people who suffer from insomnia often report that practicing progressive muscle relaxation at night helps them fall asleep. Progressive muscle relaxation is also an excellent tool to help learn about the body and the signals it may be telling you. With practice and time, you can learn to accurately identify and diminish the signs and signals of stress and tension in your body.”