Progressive muscle relaxation: A way to more serenity in everyday life

Reading time 8 minutes
Progressive muscle relaxation: A way to more serenity in everyday life

Are you often under tension or are you often exposed to stressful situations in your everyday life? If you're racing through life at high speed, sooner or later you should take some countermeasures and take some time for yourself. Because occasional moments of relaxation are indispensable for both physical and mental health. One way to do this is through progressive muscle relaxation.

If you already take good care of yourself and have a healthy way of dealing with all your daily stressors - great! Or do you often find it hard to stop and really relax? Then maybe a learnable Relaxation technique help. One of them is progressive muscle relaxation, which you can learn all about in this article.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?

The technique of progressive muscle relaxation goes back to the American Edmund Jacobsen, which is why it is often referred to as "Progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobsen". Sometimes you may also hear the term "Progressive Muscle Relaxation according to Jacobsen (PMR)", but the same method is meant.

Jacobsen was a physician, and as early as the 1920s, he noted that there is a connection between our muscle tension and our emotions gives. Are we calm and calmour muscles are also relaxed. On the other hand, when we are stressed or restless, our muscles tend to tense up. You may know this when you tense your jaw in an emotionally charged situation or have very tense shoulder and neck muscles after a stressful day.

Many studies have proven its effectiveness

Progressive muscle tension (PME for short) makes use of this knowledge. One after the other, various body muscles are tensed to the maximum - and then consciously released and relaxed again after a short time. Since this relaxation method is quite old, it is considered well researched. Many studies have proven its effectiveness. Because no special equipment is required and anyone can learn it comparatively easily, psychologists recommend progressive muscle relaxation as a good method for reducing stress. People with anxiety, sleep disorders or chronic pain also use progressive muscle relaxation successfully.

However, relaxation is of course a very individual thing. What helps you personally best to calm down or to deal with difficult moments, you must ultimately find out for yourself. Why don't you do our introductory exercise in progressive muscle relaxation right at the end of this article?

progressive muscle relaxation instruction

How can you learn progressive muscle relaxation?

In principle, anyone can learn progressive muscle relaxation. The only thing you need to get started is a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Just try out which position you feel most comfortable in. Some people get tired quickly when lying down, while others can only really relax in a horizontal position. If you choose to sit, practice as upright as possible with your feet grounded.

Especially when you start practicing, it makes a lot of sense to have the individual steps spoken to you. Constantly reading what you should do next will probably take you out of your concentration pretty quickly. For example, you could print out our starter exercise and have a trusted person read it to you. Or you could record yourself reading aloud with your smartphone and then play back the instructions whenever you want to practice. Other than that, all you really need is a quiet place. Especially during your first attempts, you can best engage with the instructions if you are not disturbed and can fully focus on the exercises.

Integrate progressive muscle relaxation into everyday life

Similar to other relaxation techniques, you should practice progressive muscle relaxation relatively regularly. The reason for this is that over time you will feel a relaxation effect more and more quickly. And if you know the exercises well, you will be able to use them in stressful moments. But the good news is: about 15 minutes a day is enough for an exercise session in the beginning. That actually sounds doable, doesn't it? Maybe you should schedule a fixed time of day for your progressive muscle relaxation. That way, practicing can become part of your daily routine, making it easier for you to really stick with it. Over time, you'll find yourself increasingly more relaxed after your practice than before. Then your practice can serve as your little Time out serve, which you already look forward to every day.

If you want a little more guidance, you can also look for special courses in progressive muscle relaxation in your area. Some public health insurance companies even cover such courses. There are also various CDs or videos available on the market that can help you learn the method.

In what situations can I use Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

After some time, when you have internalized the instructions of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, you will probably no longer need any spoken instructions. As you go through each part of the body in turn, an exercise session is very schematic. So you'll know pretty quickly what to do next without anyone guiding you. Then you can talk to yourself about which body part is next.

Once you've reached this point, you can begin to use Progressive Muscle Relaxation outside of your daily exercise. Of course, your daily exercise session also creates relief and absolutely has great value in itself, but Progressive Muscle Relaxation can do much more. If you are already somewhat practiced, you can use individual parts of the exercises to better cope with difficult situations.

One unit before sleep

Maybe you know this too: You lie in bed at night and are actually tired. But somehow you are still restless, your thoughts are circling around all sorts of things, and you just can't fall asleep. Since Progressive Muscle Relaxation can also be practiced while lying down, you can simply start a session. This way you can focus your thoughts differently and come to rest.

Or do you face many challenges in your professional life that make you tense? Maybe you even have to deal with situations on a regular basis that give you Fear for example, when you have to give an important presentation or something similar? Even in such moments, you can use progressive muscle relaxation specifically to calm yourself down and regulate your excitement.

These are just two examples - but the applications are actually unlimited. Whenever you could benefit from more serenity, you can use progressive muscle relaxation for yourself.

How exactly does progressive muscle relaxation work?

If you're thinking, "That's all well and good, but I can't quite figure out why it would work," don't worry. Because you're right, in order for a relaxation technique to work best for you, it's very helpful to understand how it works.

As mentioned earlier, the basis of progressive muscle relaxation is that emotional tension is accompanied by muscular tension. Jacobsen was able to show in some experiments that the anxiety of his subjects was reduced when the body muscles relaxed. From this follows the assumption that emotional tension can be reduced if the person concerned relaxes his body muscles.

Progressive muscle relaxation lowers high blood pressure

Now it is not so easy to relax your body muscles arbitrarily. But if you tense a body muscle intensively for a few seconds, it is quite easy to let it relax completely afterwards. Progressive muscle relaxation takes advantage of this principle: After a few seconds of intense tension, all body muscles can relax completely one after the other.

Progressive muscle relaxation owes its effectiveness to yet another effect: The relaxation is not limited to the muscles that are activated, but is also transferred to muscles that we cannot actually influence at will. For example, progressive muscle relaxation lowers your blood pressure and pulse, calms your bowels and reduces your breathing rate.

progressive muscle relaxation according to jacobson

For whom is progressive muscle relaxation suitable?

In principle, progressive muscle relaxation is suitable for a wide range of people. As it is easy to learn, even children can make their first attempts at practicing. Who Reduce stress If you are looking for balance and could benefit from more serenity in your everyday life, this method can be an effective tool for you. For many people, it is also very helpful that there is "something to do" when practicing. The constant tensing of the muscles keeps the practitioner well occupied, unlike perhaps with other relaxation techniques.

For certain conditions, you should talk to your doctor before trying progressive muscle relaxation. This applies, for example, if you suffer from asthma or low blood pressure. Also, if you have a mental illness such as a Anxiety disorder we recommend consulting with your treating physician.

People with chronic pain usually benefit from progressive muscle relaxation. Migraine is a special case here. While some sufferers experience relief from the exercises, others find the chronic headaches more massive when they practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation regularly.

A concrete exercise example

Enough theory! Below we have an example of a progressive muscle relaxation exercise for you. Your daily workout could look like this or something similar. If you have restrictions in any muscle, for example due to an injury, just skip that muscle and jump to the next one. Also, in this example, tense the right side first. If you are left-handed, it may feel better the other way around. Then you can easily switch the sides and start with the left side of your body.

The following text is an abbreviated form of Progressive Muscle Relaxation that can fit into a more hectic daily routine. When reading aloud, you or the person you trust should pause for about 5 to 10 seconds at each clip. Have fun trying it out!


Assume as comfortable a posture as possible. If it is comfortable for you, close your eyes. Take a small moment to arrive here in your position.()

One after the other, tense different muscles of your body. Try to breathe in when tensing and out when releasing.()

We start with the arms. Now firmly tense the upper arms, forearms and hands in both arms. Clench your hands into fists and bend your arms. Observe the tension.() Now release your arms again.() Let the arms go completely.()

Now tense your whole face. The forehead(), the lips(), the jaw(). Now release your face again. () Let your forehead, your lips, your cheeks become completely soft.()

Now bend your head forward towards your chest and tense your neck.() Now release your neck.() Observe how all tension leaves your neck and makes room for the pleasant relaxation.()

Now tighten your abdominal muscles.() Now let your abdomen become loose again.() Release your abdomen completely.()

Pull your shoulder up towards your ears.() Now let your shoulders sink again and become completely relaxed.() Pay attention to the pleasant feeling of relaxation.()

Now tense your legs. Pull your toes up so that tension is created in your thighs, lower legs and buttocks.() Now release your legs and buttocks. () Observe how the relaxation spreads throughout your legs.()

Now let go of your whole body completely.() Notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation.() Inhale deeply through the nose - and exhale releasing through the mouth.()

Now be prepared to finish the exercise slowly.() Slowly move your fingers and toes(), stretch and stretch,() yawn or sigh if you feel like it.() Then slowly open your eyes () and arrive back in the here and now.

Meditate for more serenity

You couldn't relax properly during your first attempts? Don't be discouraged, sometimes it just takes a bit of practice to see the effects.

Or would you like to try a different technique? Check out our free meditation challenge! Meditation is known for its many positive effects on mind and body. Scientific studies by renowned universities and research institutions show: Meditation helps us to face the stress and fast pace of today's world with more serenity - out of survival mode and into relaxation.

Greator Meditation Challenge

We take you on an exciting journey:
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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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