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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique for reducing anxiety, stress, and overall body tension so as to promote relaxation. Developed more than 50 years ago, PMR works on the principle that a muscle can be relaxed by first tensing it for a few seconds and then releasing it. This repeated tensing and releasing of the body’s muscle groups produces a deep state of relaxation.

Progressive muscle relaxation is especially helpful for people whose anxiety is strongly associated with muscle tension that is commonly experienced as chronic tightness in the shoulders and neck, muscle spasms, backaches, tension headaches, tightness in the jaw, or tightness around the eyes. PMR has been proven to relieve the physical symptoms of stress and tension that results in a relaxed body and mind.

Progressive muscle relaxation is easy to do. And the good news, if you can find a comfortable place to lie down, you can use it anytime you need to relax.

The procedure

When first starting to practice progressive muscle relaxation, it can be helpful to use an audio recording to help you focus on each muscle group. As you gain experience with PMR, you will find it easier to practice.

The basic procedure for an effective PMR practice involves the following:

  1. Choose a place where you won’t be interrupted and where you can lie down on your back and stretch out comfortably

  2. Breath in, and tense the first muscle group—hard but not to the point of cramping—for 4 to 10 seconds

  3. Breath out, and suddenly and completely relax the muscle group—do not relax it gradually

  4. Relax for 10 to 20 seconds before you work on the next muscle group

  5. When you are finished with all of the muscle groups, count backward from 5 to 1 to bring your focus back to the present

NOTE: After you have learned how to tense and relax each muscle group, here is something you can try. When you have a very tense muscle, you can practice tensing and relaxing that muscle area without going through the whole routine.


The muscle groups

The following is a list of the muscle groups in order and how to tense each of them. Remember to lie down when you do this.

Muscle group PMR technique

Hands: Clench both your hands

Wrists and forearms: Extend them, and bend your hands back at the wrist

Biceps and upper arms: Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows,

and flex your biceps

Shoulders: Shrug them by raising toward your ears

Forehead: Wrinkle it into a deep frown

Around the eyes and bridge of nose: Close your eyes as tightly as you can

of the nose:

Cheeks and jaw: Smile as widely as you can

Around the mouth: Press your lips together tightly (you just want to use your lips)

Back of the neck: Press the back of your head against the floor

Front of the neck: Touch your chin to your chest (try not to create tension in your neck and head)

Chest: Take a deep breath and hold it for 4 to 10 seconds

Back: Arch your back up and away from the floor

Stomach: Suck it into a tight knot (check your chest and stomach for tension)

Hips and buttocks: Press your buttocks together tightly

Thighs: Clench then together hard

Lower legs and feet: Point your toes toward your face, then point your toes away, and curl them downward at the same time (check the area from your waist down for tension)

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