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15 Easy Steps to Deep Relaxation

By Gay Falkowski

Progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is a stress-relief technique that uses focused muscular movements to achieve total body and mind relaxation. It’s a popular choice for people who want to diffuse tension but don’t have the energy for lots of physical exertion. To perform PMR, you must tighten and release all the major muscle groups of the body in a certain sequential order. With practice, you can learn to recognize when you are holding on to unnecessary muscular tension so you can use PMR to relieve stress before it progresses. The following 15 steps can help you reach a peaceful state, one muscle group at a time. (Always check with your physician before beginning any new physical routine.)

1) Find a quiet, dimly lit place. Lie down or sit and close your eyes.

2) Breathe in deeply through your nose. Hold the breath for a few seconds, and then completely release it through slightly parted lips. Repeat this several times. Imagine your body becoming warm and heavy. Let go of tension.

3) As you continue breathing slowly, clench both fists, squeezing them as hard as you can. Tighten both biceps and hold this tension for several seconds. You may need to hold your arms out in front of you or at your side to allow the tensing and releasing to occur. Release the tension and feel it ebb away. Focus on the change in sensations. Be sure to release all the tension in your fingers, hands, and arms.

4) Next, extend your fingers slightly as you let your arms drop to your lap or fall to your side. Try to keep your hands open as you feel the last bit of tension float away. Continue to breathe in and out very slowly. Feel the warmth and heaviness that occurs as your body relaxes.

5) Move your focus to your facial muscles. Raise your eyebrows as high as you can and wrinkle your forehead. Then, squeeze your eyes shut as tightly as you can. Next, clench your teeth together tightly. Finally, tighten your whole face up into a “knot” (squeeze your eyes, mouth and nose together). Relax your facial muscles.

6) Slowly lower your chin toward your chest. Then, with the shoulders straight and relaxed, turn your head slowly to the right. Finally, turn your head slowly to the left.

7) Take a deep breath, as deeply as you can. Puff your chest out and hold it for five seconds then release, exhaling through slightly parted lips.

8) Focus on your shoulders. Start by holding a shoulder shrug (pushing your shoulders up toward your ears) for five seconds. Then, slowly pull your shoulders back. End by pushing the shoulders forward.

9) With your shoulders resting on the back of your seat, carefully push your body forward so that your back is arched. If this particular technique causes pain or discomfort, you can skip it and continue on to the next muscle group.

10) Move your focus to the abdomen. Start by "sucking in your gut" (pulling in the stomach as far as possible). Then, push out your stomach or tense it as if you were preparing to be punched. Hold for five seconds then release.

11) On to the legs and feet. Raise your right leg, tensing your thigh and calf muscles, and pulling your toes back toward you. Then, raise your left leg in a similar fashion. Finally, raise both legs together and tighten your calf and thigh muscles as you extend your toes and point them as far forward as you can.

12) Without raising the legs, point the toes. Next, without raising the legs, pull your toes toward you as far as possible. End with digging your toes into the floor. Relax.

13) Throughout the exercises, keep your breathing very deep and regular. Once you've tensed and released a set of muscles, try not to move them until you’ve completed the PMR session. Don't use your hands after you've tensed them, for instance. Try to maintain the state of relaxation in already tensed and released areas as you move to new areas, allowing your entire body to feel more and more relaxed as you progress. Pause for about 30 seconds between tensing each set of muscles. 

14) After you have tensed and relaxed all the major muscle groups, just enjoy the peaceful state for as long as you like. Keep your thoughts focused on the rhythm of your breathing and the calm that is flowing through your body. 

15) To finish the session, open your eyes and begin to gently move your hands and feet. If you are lying down, roll over on your side for a few moments before sitting up. Sit with your legs crossed comfortably and with your hands on your knees for a few minutes to give yourself time to make the transition from the deeply relaxed state to a more active one.