Applied relaxation

Last week, I presented progressive muscle relaxation. As you’ve certainly noticed by now, this technique is time-consuming. It is, nonetheless, the basis of what I’m going to present today, applied relaxation. I think this may be what the Harvard Health article was alluding to under “eliciting the relaxation response.”


How does one relax without requiring a quiet atmosphere and without sitting in a chair? In other words, how can one relax in any situation, even the most stressful? Applied relaxation training is one answer, not the answer, to this question.


Before I continue, I urge you to seek the aid of a psychologist in learning applied relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation was just the first step. Allowing yourself to be taught can lead to the realization of perspectives that you may not have thought of by yourself. Most days, I practice Ashtanga yoga alone. Every once in a while, I attend a class, and I always learn something new. I think learning applied relaxation under the tutelage of a psychologist can be similarly valuable.


To begin, applied relaxation requires the recognization of stress (racing thoughts, pounding heart, tensing muscles, etc.). Upon acknowledging the state of stress, you conduct progressive muscle relaxation, but with larger muscle groups, such as the entire arm. This practice already decreases the amount of time from the stressed state to the relaxed state. You’ll practice this variation of progressive muscle relaxation for a while before proceeding.


The next step is called “release-only,” which eliminates the tension portion of progressive muscle relaxation. Instead of first tensing a muscle group then relaxing, you will relax each muscle group without the preliminary tension. This is not easy and will take practice. If you find that learning this is frustrating (which is already not the point of applied relaxation), seek the guidance of a psychologist.


“Cue-controlled relaxation” follows release-only relaxation. The cue is breathing, which we discussed here. (See how this is all coming together?) Attach a monosyllabic word to breathing in, such as “in” or “up” or whatever suits you intuitively. Then, when you breathe out, think “relax” or “reset” (or something else that makes sense to you) while simultaneously releasing tension. The goal is to achieve relaxation in three minutes. With practice, you will be able to relax in thirty seconds (or faster), which is called rapid relaxation. I’m sure you can see the powerful utility of rapid relaxation to everyday situations, whenever and wherever you’re out and about. This tool helps you recognize that the relaxed state, rather than the stressed state, can be the new normal.

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