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Skidmore College
Counseling Center

How to do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing body parts to decrease anxiety and achieve relaxation. It is particularly helpful for people with body tension, headaches, or insomnia. PMR is most helpful when it is practiced on a regular basis for about twenty minutes. For each sequence, focus on the sensations that come from tensing and relaxing each body part. If your mind begins to wander, gently direct it back to your muscles. Follow these steps to begin using PMR:

  1. Sit or lie down somewhere quiet and comfortable.
  2. Begin focusing on your breathing and take a few deep abdominal breaths as you imagine your body becoming more relaxed.
  3. Clench one or both fists as tightly as you can for about ten seconds. Pay attention to that muscle group and focus on the feeling of tension. Then release your fists for 10-20 seconds and notice the difference in how it feels to relax your hands. Imagine tension draining from your body. (Use the same technique for each of the following muscle groups.)
  4. Make a muscle with one or both biceps. Focus on the tension…and then relax.
  5. Hold your arms out straight in front of you and lock your elbows to tighten your triceps. Hold…and then relax.
  6. Wrinkle your forehead. Hold…and then relax. Imagine your forehead becoming smooth and soft.
  7. Squeeze your eyes shut. Hold…and then relax. Let the feeling of relaxation spread all over your face.
  8. Open your mouth as wide as you can. Hold…and then relax. Let your jaw hang loosely and your lips part.
  9. Tilt your head back gently. Hold…and then relax.
  10. Raise your shoulders to your ears. Hold…and then relax.
  11. Squeeze your shoulder blades back. Hold…and then relax.
  12. Hold your breath for ten seconds and release slowly.
  13. Tighten your abs. Hold…and then relax.
  14. Tighten your buttocks. Hold…and then relax.
  15. Tighten your thigh muscles. Hold…and then relax.
  16. Point your foot. Hold…and then relax
  17. Flex your foot. Hold…and then relax.
  18. Pay attention to your body and notice where there is any tension. If you feel tension anywhere, repeat that muscle group.
  19. Let yourself sink into your chair or bed and focus on the feeling of relaxation in each muscle group.

*Some people find it easier to listen to a tape or video that guides you through the exercises while you’re doing PMR. Click here for a YouTube video on PMR or make your own!*