Using Progressive Relaxation Techniques to Help You Relax

One of the most common ways stress manifests itself is through tension in your body – but progressive relaxation techniques may be the key to releasing this tension before it begins to affect you.

More than often, that tension stays with you long after the cause of your stress is gone. It can show up in numerous ways: a headache that won’t go away, tensed muscles, or a twitch that won’t stop.

Even when your mind may be ready to relax, you can feel still feel the residual tension in your shoulders, your back, your joints, your muscles, and elsewhere in your body.

The relationship between mind and body is a two-way street. Tense muscles are not only a result of stress but can also be a source of it. Your fight or flight response is activated, even if the “danger” has passed.

Now, you need to activate the relaxation response.

If you need help releasing that tension and reaching a truly relaxed state, then you should start using progressive muscle relaxation techniques.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a physical activity that combines deep breathing and purposeful contractions to create release for different muscles in your body. For many, progressive muscle relaxation therapy is a good tool for stress management.


The use of progressive muscle relaxation techniques started in the 1920’s with Dr. Edmund Jacobson. He developed it as a way for his patients to deal with their anxiety from physical traumas. Dr. Jacobson believed that relaxing the muscles would relax the mind too – he based his thesis off a process known as biofeedback.

Recently, research has shown that progressive relaxation techniques are beneficial for those suffering from anxiety and depression.

It’s a simple method for relaxation but it does take practice. Additionally, as with all physical exercise, you’ll want to be cautious and make sure to do only what is comfortable for your body. There should not be any pain throughout these exercises. If you experience any pain, make sure to stop and contact a doctor if it persists.

Ready to let go of the muscle tension and stress from the day? Use these progressive muscle techniques below.

Clenched Fist Exercise

If you want to start small, start with the Clenched Fist exercise. This exercise will help you get in the right frame of mind for practicing progressive relaxation techniques.

Start by clenching your right hand into a fist as hard as you can. Feel the tightness of your fingers, the stretch of your skin in the back of your hand, and tension in your forearms. Keep your fist clenched, take a deep breath and count to 10.

Then, let your hand go limp. Notice the difference between the two. Repeat this exercise with with your left hand.

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Since this exercise focuses on a small muscle group, it’s a good jumping off point before moving to the whole body. Try it out a few more times before heading into the full-body experience.

Full-Body Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Find a comfortable spot to start your full-body progressive muscle relaxation.

Lying down would be best, but you can also sit if it feels better for you. If seated, make sure your spine is straight and shoulders are aligned. Close your eyes.

Take a few deep breaths to relax. If you need help bringing your breath to the present moment, listen to this short meditation guide:

You can decide whether to start at the bottom of your body (feet to head) or the top of your body (head to feet). For this guide, we’ll start at the bottom; just reverse the order if you’d like to start at the top.

Focus on your right foot and think about how it currently feels. Then, slowly tense up the muscles in your right foot until you’re squeezing them as hard as you can. Count to 10 before releasing. While you relax your right foot, notice how it feels. It helps to think to yourself that you’re letting go of the tension.

Repeat this process with your left foot.

Now, work your way up through the other muscles of your body in the following order. Make sure to alternate between your left and right side.

Tighten these muscles for 10 seconds before release.

  • Calves
  • Knees
  • Thighs
  • Hip
  • Lower back
  • Abdomen
  • Upper back
  • Chest

Once you get to your shoulders, focus on how your hands and arms in their current state. Now, start with your wrist – tense and release. Then do the same with your forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder.

Finally, bring your attention to your head. Tighten and release the muscles in the following order:

  • Neck and throat
  • Face
  • Back of head
  • Top of head

The very last muscle you’ll relax will be your eyes. Squeeze the muscles around your eyes for 10 seconds, then release.

Make sure your breath is calm and steady throughout the exercise.

After the last muscle, give your body a moment to stay in this feeling before getting up or moving.

Follow along with an audio guide while you try progressive relaxation with the video below.

Progressive Relaxation Mini-Exercise

If your time is limited, try this abbreviated version of the total body progressive relaxation technique instead.

You’ll cut down on time by combining smaller muscle groups into fewer, larger groups which you’ll tighten and release in the same way. Here are four large muscle groups to consider:

  • Legs and feet
  • Abdomen and chest
  • Arms and hands
  • Shoulders, shoulder blades, neck, and face

You might find it easier to target these grouped muscles after a few practices of the full-body muscle relaxation. However, once you feel confident in your practice, you’ll find quicker relief even if you have only have 15 minutes.

Using “Release Only”

As you become familiar with your body’s response to stress and the tension that forms in your muscles, you may be able to use the “release only” method of progressive muscle relaxation therapy.

It’s as simple as it sounds which is great for instant stress relief. Whenever you feel particular muscles in your body tightening up, simply focus your energy on releasing the tension.

If you have 30 seconds to spare, you can use this guided meditation help:

Progressive Relaxation Techniques and Mindfulness

When you bring focus to your body during stressful times, you’re practicing mindfulness of the body.

In fact, many progressive relaxation guides suggest pairing meditation or mindful breathing with the exercise to further deepen the state of relaxation.

Mindfulness helps you live in the present moment and works with your mind. So, combining mindfulness techniques with progressive relaxation techniques can be a powerful way to truly discover calm and peace in your life.

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For the times that you’re too buried in your stressful environment, Spire can help too. The Spire Stone uses proprietary technology to measure your stress levels and will send a gentle reminder to your phone to listen to your body and breath – a perfect time to start using these relaxation exercises to help you manage all of life’s stresses.

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Spire is dedicated to helping you live a happier, healthier lifestyle with an easy-to-use device for mindful breathing techniques. Learn more about the benefits of breath-tracking at

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