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Relaxation therapy

[Related techniques: Autogenic training, biofeedback, hypnotherapy, meditation]


Relaxation therapy refers to techniques for eliciting the “relaxation response” of the autonomic nervous system. One of the most common relaxation techniques is progressive muscle relaxation, pioneered in 1930 by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, an American physician. Progressive muscle relaxation is based on the notion that it is impossible to be tense in any part of the body when all of the muscles are completely relaxed. Furthermore, tension within involuntary muscles and organs can be reduced if the associated skeletal muscles are relaxed. The method is learned by first tensing a muscle before relaxing it in order to help recognize the difference between tension and relaxation. Subsequently, it is possible to relax a limb without first tensing it. The technique was modified over time. Other relaxation techniques involve passive muscle relaxation, refocusing, breathing control, or imagery. Benson’s relaxation response contains an attention control element wherein the focus addresses slow rhythmical breathing combined with repetition of a single word. With imagery-based relaxation, the idea is to imagine oneself in a place or situation associated with relaxation and comfort using visualization and involving all the other senses in creating a vivid image.


The treatment is usually carried out in a quiet room without bright light. The patients usually lie on their back with arms to the side. Muscle groups are systematically contracted and then relaxed in a predetermined order. In the early stages, an entire session will be devoted to a single muscle group. With practice, it becomes possible to combine muscle groups and then eventually relax the entire body all at once. With progressive muscle relaxation, several months of practice, at least three times a week, are required after learning the technique in order to be able to evoke the relaxation response within seconds.