The importance of progressive muscle relaxation cannot be overstated, not just in regards to sleep, out-of-body experiences, astral projection and meditation, but also in terms of general health and well-being.
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Nowadays, depression, anxiety and various sleep issues associated with/brought about by them, have become extremely common. Some people are indeed subjected to such incredible amounts of stress on a daily basis that they have simply forgotten what it even feels like to be relaxed.
Continuous stress does not just result in continuously elevated cortisol levels, thus increasing blood pressure and heart rate, it also negatively impacts concentration and focus, the mood and even the functioning of the immune system.
Insomnia is one of the consequences of stress-filled modern life and when the situation devolves to that point, a cascade of other sleep-related problems come into the picture as well, kick-starting a downward spiral, at the bottom of which complete meltdown awaits.
PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) can disrupt this downward spiral, treating many of the conditions that make it up, including insomnia. Through PMR, relief can be gained for depression as well as for anxiety. In fact, those who become good at PMR, will be able to nip anxiety in the bud, every time it starts rearing its head.
What about out-of-body experiences and astral projection?
As far as I’m concerned, these are extremely important issues, and the link between them and PMR is very valid indeed.
You see, deep physical relaxation is one of the most important prerequisites of successful projections and OBEs. The reason why many oneironauts and AP-enthusiasts fail to achieve proper conscious-exit projection is that they neglect the role of deep physical relaxation, in favor of more interesting things further down the line.
After all: how difficult is it to relax and to achieve a certain level of trance?
If one manages to stay awake till a state of trance is reached, he/she has more or less successfully completed the first part of the AP mission, right?
What exactly does trance translate to?
During this state, the physical body is asleep, while the mind is still awake. Despite being asleep, the body may still be riddled with muscle tension and it may be in a stressed-out state. Such a physical body will not allow for proper projectable double generation and separation.
This phenomenon simply does not work at the areas where physical tension is present. Thus, the effort will result in partial projections and eventually, an inability on the part of the projector to progress any further. Frustration soon strikes, further complicating the problem.
The simplicity of PMR is exactly why it is so exasperating to see many potentially successful APers struggle with problems they could easily avoid by focusing more on deep physical relaxation.
Progressive muscle relaxation and the deep physical relaxation it achieves, is nothing less than the very foundation on which the entire successful AP/OBE experience rests, and it should be treated as such.
Certainly, it is simple, and everyone can do it. Thus, it won’t actually grant you the perceived privilege of feeling “special.” It has to be done nonetheless, before moving on to more interesting and appealing aspects of the AP experience.
PMR also lends itself well to practice, in the sense that it becomes easier and easier the more one does it. The key is to go about it the right way and to practice it often.
What is that “right way” in which you should go about it though?
While an actual PMR session should not take longer than 10-15 minutes, the “right way” requires that you go about it very methodically. You have to complete several preparatory phases before you even get to the point where you apply actual PMR techniques.
PMR is hardly a new technique. First introduced in the 1920s by Dr. Edmund Jacobson, it consists of two basic steps, the aim of which is to effectively “teach” the practitioner the difference between tensed-up and utterly relaxed muscles.
This is achieved by getting the PMR user to tense his/her muscles, one group at a time, and then to relax them.
Again: this is a purely physical approach, and as such, it is meant to relax the physical body first and utmost. One of the observed side-effects of PMR though is that it relaxes the mind too.
Apparently, proper physical relaxation is conducive to a certain degree of mental relaxation as well, and that makes the practice even more useful for intricate exercises involving the manipulation of consciousness, such as astral projection.
The physical effects of the practice should not be underestimated either. Though at first, PMR may seem little more than a temporary getaway from life’s problems, over time, its physical effects are compounded, resulting in massive improvements of conditions one would never even dare to consider in this regard.
There is a medical study out there for instance, which documents the way PMR was is to improve the quality of life and functional status of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) sufferers.
Its impact on cortisol (also called “the stress hormone”) alone is significant enough to warrant attention. Often proclaimed “public enemy number one,” cortisol is at the root of most health-issues associated with modern life.
The bottom line in this regard is that once one’s mind learns to control muscle tension, a series of measures can be automatically taken to alleviate it as well as the resulting stress, as soon as they strike. A skilled PMR practitioner will not have to go through all the steps described in my PMR script below, to reap the benefits of the method near-instantaneously.
How PMR is done
Though the basic technique for progressive muscle relaxation cannot really be twisted and turned around much, still, several methods exist, which combine various other relaxation techniques with it.
Some categorize the preparatory stage as a standalone method – which it obviously is not. That said however, these preparatory stages are extremely important and while they are simple enough, there’s a lot one has to know about them, to get them just right.
One method used to tweak PMR is to incorporate relaxing imagery. Such imagery can range from the very simple – such as imagining your various body parts bathed by the warm rays of the sun – to the complex – such as imagining yourself out in the woods, on a sunny clearing, among buzzing bees and colorful flowers.
The use of guided imagery is meant to add to the effects of PMR, complementing them. Imagining a safe place, or any spot to which one is linked by fond memories, and then imagining oneself transported to that place, is the way to go.
The preparatory stages
As said above, proper preparation is extremely important for PMR to be effective, and once we take a closer look at it, you’ll see why that is the case.
One of the most important prerequisites of proper PMR is that the practitioner should be well rested. If you are sleepy, you’re not in a good position to begin PMR, especially if you plan on doing the required exercises lying down.
Remember, that while it can be used to address sleep-related issues, the goal of PMR is NOT to make you fall asleep.
In this regard, you may want to avoid doing the PMR exercises after a copious meal. In that well-fed condition, you are much more likely to doze off from relaxation.
If you find it impossible to achieve even the minimum required relaxation to begin the exercises, taking a bath may help, as it has a soothing and energy-draining effect on the body.
It is recommended that you do you PMR sitting up in an armchair, where you have good support for your back, neck and arms. Loose clothing is recommended as well, as you do not need circulation-related problems distracting you from your deep physical relaxation.
Finding the proper posture is important for the same reason: during deep physical relaxation, your head may sag for instance, creating a circulation hiccup again, which will disturb your relaxation.
While the use of a bed (and lying down) is not recommended, it can be a last-resort type of solution. If you have to use a bed, remember to keep your lower arms up, perpendicular to the bed. That will prevent you from dozing off.
The good posture recommendation goes for the whole body, obviously. Sagging in your armchair will result in joint and muscle strain, thus defeating the very purpose of your exercise.
In addition to the above, before you start, make sure you have time set aside for this purpose, during which no one will bother you in any way. Turn off your phone, and choose a secluded corner of your house. You may even want to consider dimming the lights.
Have a blanket at the ready in case you start feeling cold due to the relaxation. Indeed, the lowering of the heart-rate, which results from the exercise, can have such an effect on some people.
To wrap up your preparations, take five to ten deep breaths. Such deep breathing will put your body into “relaxation-mode.” Some also recommend that you do a full body stretch before you get down to the actual exercises.
Let us cut to the chase
As said above, progressive muscle relaxation is about tensing and then relaxing various muscle groups in your body, thus teaching yourself the difference between the two states and giving yourself a valuable tool for achieving relaxation much easier further down the line.
In the beginning, you will benefit from listening to a set of instructions (such as those provided below) that guides you through the process step-by-step. You can also memorize the instructions and follow them by heart.
It is best to go through the routine methodically, starting with the feet and working your way up the body to the neck and the face.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Instructions
Once you’re settled in and ready to start, take a deep breath through your nose, then exhale through your mouth.
Take another deep breath and curl your toes on your right foot as tightly as you can. Hold the tension in the muscle while you hold your breath for 5-10 seconds. Breathe out and release the tension, focusing on the way your foot feels when it relaxes.
Repeat the same move for the left foot.
Next, tighten your calf muscle. You can accomplish this by sort of pretending to push down on something with your foot. Remember to correlate the tightening and relaxing of your calf muscle with the above described breathing technique. Again: repeat for the left calf.
You can involve the front part of your lower leg too, by pulling your toes upward as much as you can. This move stretches the calf-muscle and tenses the frontal muscle group. Tense, hold and relax, while inhaling and exhaling as said above.
Theoretically, you can do these exercises for both feet/legs at the same time, but it’s best in the beginning to focus on just one muscle group. Later on, as you become better at PMR, you’ll be able to take such shortcuts without compromising the quality of the exercise.
Let us move on to the thighs. Squeeze your thigh muscles (by locking your knees and sort of attempting to lift an imaginary weight forward with your legs). Hold the tension, then release.
You can repeat the move for your inner thighs as well. This time around, you shall be “attempting to squeeze your knees together.” The technique is the same as described above. The same goes for the hamstrings.
The next muscle group is the buttocks (the gluteous maximus and everything linked to it). Squeeze your buttocks together and hold the tension while holding the breath you’ve just taken through your nose. Relax after 5-10 seconds while breathing out.
The abs are next. Give them the sort of squeeze you would if you attempted to roll into a ball. Hold the tension, then release as specified above. Suck in your stomach next, and hold that position for the required amount of time. Relax.
Straighten your back and attempt to push your upper body backward, even as you’re pushing your bum out and backward too, to tense up your lower back muscles.
Let’s do the arms next. Once again, everything you do on the right side should be repeated on the left.
Make a fist and squeeze it hard. Relax. Lock out your elbows and give the triceps (the biggest muscle-group of the upper arm, located on the back of your arm) a squeeze too.
Engage your biceps by flexing in the “make a muscle” fashion. Relax them too, while breathing out and focusing on just how good it feels to let go of the tension.
Next up, we have the neck and the shoulders. While the shoulders themselves are difficult to engage without actually pushing a weight above your head, you’ll use your trapezius muscles to pull your shoulders upward and inward, towards your ears. The traps go up all the way into your neck, so they’ll engage that area as well.
If you are prone to injury in this area, exercise increased caution when tensing. Relax your muscles, while breathing out and focusing on how the tension flows out of the targeted muscle group.
The facial muscles are next. We shall be focusing on the mouth (jaw), eyes, and eyebrows here.
Open your mouth as widely as you can, stretching the muscles of the jaw, while taking a deep breath through your nose. Hold the position for 5-10, then relax while breathing out.
Close your eyes and squeeze them shut as tightly as you can. Relax them.
Raise your eyebrows as far up as you can, hold them in position, then relax.
Remember to take some time at the end of it all, to focus on the complete physical relaxation of your body. You’ll be amazed by how good it feels.
Depending on your individual muscle-control abilities, feel free to break the above script down into smaller muscle-groups. Just remember that this way, it will take you longer to complete the routine.
Your eventual goal is to be able to achieve complete relaxation at will, even at a moment’s notice if needed.