Active relaxation is an umbrella term that encompasses complementary health practices to promote overall well-being. Active relaxation involves mind-body techniques that focus on movement and intentionally using your mind and thoughts to relax and reduce stress. This technique is unlike passive relaxation, which includes activities like watching TV, surfing the internet, and scrolling on your phone to give your mind a break.
This article will discuss the benefits of active relaxation and different techniques.
Benefits of Active Relaxation
The goal of active relaxation techniques is to decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for increasing arousal, stimulation of body systems, and stress. Active relaxation techniques focus on inducing a relaxation response, which can help:
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Decrease pain
- Improve mood
- Lower blood pressure
- Control heart rate and breathing
- Decrease muscle tension
Active Relaxation Techniques
You can use several active relaxation techniques to help manage stress and increase relaxation. Current research does not suggest that one method alone is superior to another.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups. This approach uses all the major muscle groups from your toes to your head to promote overall body relaxation, focusing on tension and stress relief when muscle tension is released.
This technique is often used with other behavioral therapies and will enable your body to respond to anxiety better.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing technique used to increase the activity of the diaphragm to take bigger breaths. This increases the amount of oxygen in the body by allowing your belly to expand outward with each breath.
Deep breathing techniques can help decrease sympathetic nervous system activity and interfere with the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Diaphragmatic breathing also helps lower blood pressure and reduce the production of stress hormones, and improve lung function.
Autogenic relaxation, or autogenic training, is a technique that focuses on relaxation in certain parts of the body. Unlike progressive muscle relaxation, muscles are not tensed before attention is directed to muscle relaxation.
Autogenic relaxation involves sitting or lying down in a quiet environment to focus on six different body areas to promote balance between the sympathetic (stimulating) and parasympathetic (resting) nervous systems. These areas include:
- Heaviness in your muscles
- Warmth in your arms, legs, and other body areas
- Slower and more relaxed heartbeat
- Slower and more relaxed breathing
- Relaxation of the belly
- Coolness of the forehead
Autogenic means “self-generated” or “coming from within.”
Mindfulness meditation is a technique that involves focusing attention on the present moment with openness and acceptance. This means attuning to your senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Mindfulness meditation helps increase awareness of your external surroundings and internal sensations to help promote relaxation and reduce stress and pain.
Yoga and Tai Chi
Yoga is a mind-body practice that focuses on different movements and postures combined with deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation. Tai Chi combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and controlled movements. Both types of exercises can help promote relaxation and decrease stress.
Massaging tight and stressed muscles can provide physical pressure to ease muscle tension, which can help relieve stress and chronic pain.
Active Relaxation Tips
It is best to find a calm, quiet environment free of noise and distractions to allow you to focus while performing active relaxation techniques. Consider taking time in the morning to establish a relaxed state and start your day off positively, or at the end of your day to relax and unwind from the daily stressors.
Too much stress can be incredibly harmful to the body, increasing levels of inflammation and your risk of many serious conditions, including heart disease and stroke. Make sure you take time to practice active relaxation techniques or find healthy outlets like exercising or socializing with friends to help manage your stress levels.
Active relaxation techniques are mind-body practices that focus on directing your thoughts to elicit a sense of relaxation and improve your overall well-being. Active relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, autogenic relaxation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, and massage, can help reduce stress, anxiety, pain, muscle tension, and blood pressure.
A Word From Verywell
Not every technique will work for everyone. Start slow and experiment with different approaches to see the ones that work best for you. Even five minutes a day to help focus your attention on relaxation can help decrease your stress.