Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Progressive muscle relaxation techniques have been utilized to effectively control stress, fear, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. This procedure can also be effectively applied to natural childbirth. Through conditioned practice you can quickly learn to recognize -and differentiate-  a tensed muscle from a completely relaxed muscle.

With this simple awareness, you can then induce physical muscular relaxation at the first signs of tension caused by anxiety.  Physical relaxation enables mental peace-in any situation, even natural childbirth.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a two-step process based upon first tightening a muscle or muscle group and then releasing the tension.  Once the tension has been released, you focus your attention on how the muscles feel as the tension melts away.  Mastery of this technique can be achieved in approximately ten minutes of practice per day. 

Before beginning, here are some suggestions for practice:

  • Find a quiet location free of distractions
  • Wear loose clothing and remove shoes
  • Sitting in a chair is preferable to lying down
  • If possible, practice before meals rather than after
  • Practice at a time when you're not likely to fall asleep
  • Stand slowly once you've finished to avoid becoming light-headed

Progressive muscle relaxation techniques are usually undertaken in a predictable sequence. One of the most commonly used is listed below:

Recommended Muscle Group Sequence:

  • Right Foot
  • Right Lower Leg and Foot
  • Right Leg
  • Repeat Sequence for Left Leg
  • Right Hand
  • Right Forearm and Hand
  • Entire Right Arm
  • Repeat Sequence for Left Arm
  • Abdomen
  • Chest
  • Neck and Shoulders
  • Face

If you are left-handed, consider switching the sequence to begin with the left foot and so forth.

In the initial stages, the full technique is practiced.  Once this has been mastered, usually after a week of practicing twice daily, you can move on to a shortened form.


The shortened form progresses to larger muscle groups.  The standard progression is:

  • Lower Limbs
  • Abdomen
  • Neck, Shoulders and Arms
  • Face

Once this format has been mastered, usually after another week of twice daily practice, you can proceed to Cue-Controlled Relaxation.  In this form, you use the shortened PMR sequence but pay special attention to your breathing so that you are inhaling during the tension phase and exhaling during the release.  As you exhale, you use a cue word or phrase to associate with your relaxed state.  For birthing purposes, it could be something like "let it go", "gentle birthing" or some other meaningful phrase.  Eventually, you are able to eliminate the need for the PMR phase and can summon relaxation with the thought of your cue phrase.

The final step of the progressive muscle relaxation techniques is that of Deep Muscle Relaxation.  This technique is performed by using mentally visualizing the muscle groups in your body while actively relaxing each one through your cue phrase.  Deep muscle relaxation typically starts at the top of your head and proceeds downward as if the relaxation were seeping over your entire body.

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Page Last Modified by Catherine Beier, MS, CBE

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