Forgotten how to relax? True relaxation can take some effort—but it’s worth the work. Follow this guide to progressive muscle relaxation

Stress—the "fight or flight" reaction—is automatic, turned on in response to danger. The trouble is, unless you literally run away from the problem, there’s no outlet for the tension. And that can spell trouble for your health.

You can learn to turn the stress response off by consciously activating what Dr Herbert Benson, a pioneer in stress research, calls the "relaxation response". Benson was the first to study the physical effects of certain relaxation techniques.

"You can learn to turn the stress response off by consciously activating the relaxation response"

He found that by practising meditation or deep breathing, for instance, you can actually lower your blood pressure, slow your breathing, change your brain wave patterns, reduce your body’s oxygen consumption and even boost some aspects of your immune system.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique which involves tensing and releasing groups of muscles one at a time to relax your entire body. Techniques like this may help lower blood pressure in people with stress-related hypertension.

1. Lie down

Lie on your back on a thick carpet or exercise mat.

2. Breathe deeply and tense your whole body

Breathe in deeply, then tense your entire body and hold the tension for several seconds, noticing how it feels. Then let go while exhaling and notice the difference.

3. Now do it section by section

Tense each part of your body section by section, starting with your feet. Point your toes forward, then up. Tense your calf muscles, then relax. Move to your thighs, then your stomach muscles. Now arch your back slightly and press it into the floor.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?

4. Continue through your whole body

Continue tensing individual muscle groups. Make your hands into fists, then let go. Press your arms against the floor, then relax them. Shrug your shoulders, then release. Tense the muscles in your face (wrinkle your brow, clench your teeth, open your mouth wide). 

5. Rest

When you’ve finished, lie quietly for a few minutes. Your whole body should feel at rest.

Read more: Stretch yourself: Remain limber as you age

Read more: 6 Simple steps to a happy, healthy heart

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