The Relaxation Response – By Dr David Lewis

There is nothing especially difficult about learning to relax. Most people can acquire the skills needed in just a few weeks of regular practice. Once mastered these procedures may be used anywhere and at any time to help you cope with stressful or challenging situations.

When you are ready to make a start sit or lie down in a comfortable chair, on a couch or a bed that provides a good support for your back, shoulders and neck. The room you choose should be as quiet as possible and you should arrange not to be disturbed for the next twenty minutes.

Loosen any tight clothing and slip off your shoes.
Uncross your legs and let your arms hang loosely down by your sides.
Sit or lie back in a comfortable position.

Breathe through your nostrils, making sure to keep your breathing slow and smooth. Each time you breathe out feel yourself becoming just a little more relaxed.

Focus your attention on each of your major muscle groups in turn and notice tension in any of them.

Start at your ankles and feet.
Gently stretch your feet by arching them and pointing your toes towards the floor if seated or opposite wall if lying down.
Do this now. Arch your feet and point your toes.
Tighter…tighter.
Hold this tension…hold it.

And relax. Allow all the tension to flow out from your ankles and feet and, as you do so, notice the different between tension and relaxation in these muscles.
Make sure your breathing is slow and gentle. Each time you breathe out feel yourself becoming more and more deeply relaxed.

Now you are going to deliberately tense the muscles in your legs, thighs and buttocks. You can do this by pointing your toes as you squeeze your thighs and buttocks tightly together. Do this now.
Point your toes and squeeze your legs and buttocks tightly together.

Feel the tension building in the muscles of your buttocks, thighs, and calves.
Feel it building….and relax.
Let those muscles flop right out and, as you do so, notice the difference between stress and tension in the muscles of your buttocks, thighs and calves.
Feel all the stress and tension flowing away into the surrounding air with each exhaled breathe and, as you do so, notice that these muscles are becoming warmer and heavier, more and more deeply relaxed.
Next deliberately tense the muscles of your stomach and chest.
You do this by flattening the muscles of your abdomen as thought anticipating a blow while at the same time taking and holding a very deep breathe.
Pull in your stomach. Really flatten the abdominal muscles. Feel the muscles between your ribs tensing as your chest expands with the deep intake of air.
Hold that tension.
Hold it…..
And relax. Allow your stomach muscles to flop out as you exhale and feel the muscles of your chest become looser and more relaxed.
As before notice the difference between stress and tension in the muscles of your abdomen and chest.
Your whole body is starting to feel more and more relaxed. Heavier and warmer.
No tension in the muscles of your feet, ankles, calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach or chest. You are becoming more and more deeply relaxed with every exhaled breath.
Now we are going to tense the muscles of the arms and hands.
You do this by curling your fingers into a fist and, at the same time, by bending your hands back as if trying to touch your wrists with the knuckles of each hand.
While clenching your fingers into a first and bending back your wrists, also bend your arms at the elbows and try to touch each shoulder with your hands.
Do this now.
Fold your fingers into a fist.
Bend your hands at the wrists.
Bend your arms at the elbows.
Really tense those muscles.
Dig your fingers into your palms. Press back with your wrists. Bend your elbows tighter and tighter.
And relax.
Uncurl your fingers. Allow your wrists to flop down and rest your arms at your side so that the chair or bed carries their full weight.
Notice the differences between tension and relaxation in the muscles of your fingers and hands, your wrists and your elbows.
Make sure your breathing is slow and effortless, the air flowing smoothly into and away from you lung and – each time you breathe out – notice all the stress and tension flowing away from your body and into the surrounding air.

No stress or tension in the muscles of your feet or legs, your stomach or chest, your hands, wrists and arms.
You are becoming more and more deeply relaxed.
Your body is becoming heavier and heavier…warmer and warmer.

The next group of muscles to first tense and then relax are those of your shoulders and neck. You can stress these by hunching your shoulders while at the same time pressing back hard on the back of the chair or other support.
Do this now.

Draw your shoulders upwards…higher…higher.
At the same time press back against the support…harder…harder.
Feel the tension building…feel it.
And relax. Let your shoulders flop down and rest your head lightly against the support. Notice the difference between tension and relaxation in the muscles of your shoulders and neck. Feel these muscles become more and more relaxed. Warmer and heavier and more and more relaxed.
Keep your breathing slow and smooth. Each time you exhale feel a little more stress and tension flowing away from your body and into the surrounding air.

The final set of muscles we are going to relax are those of the face.

These are among the tensest muscles in our whole body because for so much of the day we keep them set into a rigid mask so as not to betray our emotions to others.
The powerful muscles of the jaw, the masseter muscles, are often under so much tension – even at night – that we can actually grind down our molars a condition known as bruxism. Here is how you tense these facial muscles. Listen as I explain each of them in turn and then we will practice with them individually before attempting to tense all at the same time.
To tense the muscles of the forehead you simply frown as hard as you can.
To tense the muscles of the jaw you clench your teeth tightly together.
To tense the muscles of the throat you press the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth – your hard palate.
Try this now. Frown…clench your teeth and push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
Feel the tension building…and building.
Hold it…feel the tension in these muscles.
Now relax your brow and your jaw. Let your mouth hang loose with lips slightly parted, allow your tongue to relax.
Notice the difference between tension and relaxation in the muscles of your face.
Your are now very deeply relaxed. Your body feels warm and heavy. You feel no tension in any part of your muscles. Enjoy these feelings of absolute relaxation as you sink more and more deeply into your chair or support.
Make sure your breathing remains smooth and slow with each exhalation leaving you a little more relaxed than before.
Try to focus as much attention as possible on your breathing, noticing the inflow and outflow of air through your nostrils and using this concentrated attention to free your mind from any worries or concerns.
Spend the next few minutes enjoying the sensation of being in a profoundly tranquil and deeply relaxed state.
I hope you were able to follow these instructions. You will probably find it easier to record the words onto a tape so that you can listen rather than have to remember the different muscles groups that need to be relaxed.

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