It is no secret the stress can flare autoimmune diseases. This is why it is important to utilize muscle relaxation techniques to help calm the nervous system during times of stress. Regular practice of muscle relaxation can help slow the heart rate, respiration and help lower blood pressure. For those with autoimmune diseases the benefits extend to the immune system, helping to reduce inflammation.
Relaxing is difficult for most people. This is why it is important to find strategies to help the body and the muscles relax on a weekly or even daily basis. The most common strategy for helping relax muscles is through Progressive Muscle Relaxation. At the very minimum, this technique can counteract tightness in areas like the neck, back and jaw. If done daily, it can help lower stimulation levels which makes it more difficult to be anxious.
This technique is simple to do and only takes 10-15 minutes to complete. It can be done sitting or lying, and is intended to relax all muscle groups in a systematic manner. Imagery can be added for those that are more visual learners, and especially for children.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Instructions:
- Get into a relaxed position, either lying flat or sitting with the neck upright.
- Close your eyes and focus entirely on the sensations of each muscle group as you go through them.
- Imagery can be added for additional effect. You can image yourself lying on a grassy hill with the sun shining on you, touching each muscle group as you go through them.
- If you are sitting, start at the head and move down. If you are lying, start at the feet and move up. Work with one muscle group at a time.
- Tense, hold and then relax the muscle group.
- Feel warmth flood into them with each exhalation of breath.
- Repeat the tense, hold and release 3x.
- Go through each muscle group, noticing the warmth and energy that comes from releasing after each tensing.
- Muscle groups to focus on:
- Scalp – raise your eyebrows to tighten the scalp
- Forehead – wrinkle your brow
- Face – squint your eyes, wrinkle your nose
- Neck – let your head drop forward with it’s natural weight, pulling the chin to the chest and tilt your head to one side, with the ear moving directly toward the shoulder. Return to center each time.
- Shoulders – raise your shoulders up and bunch them
- Arms – tighten your forearm, wrist, and hand by clenching your fist.
- Back and abdomen – tighten this area by imaging a string pulling your belly button (navel) toward the spine and then release slowly.
- Buttocks – tighten by squeezing together
- Thighs – tighten by tensing and releasing your quad muscles
- Calves and shins – tighten by pointing your toes and then pulling the toe up and pushing the heel down.
- Feet and Toes – tighten by either curling the toes or pushing the foot into the earth.
- Notice how relaxed, warm and peaceful you are. Give yourself permission to remain relaxed as long as desired.
This is only one way to help your body and muscles relax on a regular basis. If you are thinking about implementing more relaxation techniques into your daily life, consider scheduling time in. Make it a priority. Pencil it into your schedule like you would a dentist appointment. Making time to relax your body will help you feel less anxious and more relaxed and reduce your body’s immune system responses over time.