A simple relaxation exercise that helps to calm the brain and body, reduce stress, and is useful for falling asleep is called progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. This easy practice consists of tightening one muscle group at a time, then releasing that tension and relaxing.
I found that, when combined with deep breathing, PMR helps me fall asleep more quickly. When I direct my thoughts to individual body parts, one by one, my body relaxes, which helps relax my mind. That makes it easier to focus on my breath work, as well as some mindfulness meditation and gratitude, which I do in bed every night.
An article on the website WebMD, “Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique for Stress and Insomnia,” notes that doctors have used PMR with standard treatments for the relief of symptoms associated with headaches, cancer pain, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances. You can do this seated or lying down (I prefer lying down). Typically, you’d start with the lower extremities—feet, ankles, and leg—and end with your shoulders, neck, and head. Here are their instructions:
- While breathing in, contract your lower left leg (foot and calf) for five to ten seconds, then suddenly relax those muscles as you breathe out. As you do that, you might visualize the stressful feelings flowing out of your body.
- Focus on the relaxation sensation you feel in your lower leg.
- Rest for ten to twenty seconds, then move on to your left thigh.
- Repeat with your right foot, calf, and thigh.
- Move on to your abdomen and chest and repeat these steps.
- Repeat with your left hand and arm and then your right.
- Finish with your shoulders, neck, and head.
So, if you have trouble relaxing after a long day, or have trouble falling asleep, try giving progresive muscle relaxation a shot. It is a powerful technique that helps calm the brain and body. It doesn’t take long at all. The technique also naturally incorporates mindfulness, which is another clinically beneficial relaxation technique.
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