A dear friend of mine loves to remind me that one of the best ways to relax the mind is to relax the body.

A massage, restorative yoga class, or nature walk are among my favorite methods. 

When I am serious about releasing stress, I rely on progressive muscle relaxation to let go of tension from head to toe.

You can do this simple technique starting with the feet, hands, or head.  Gently tense each muscle group for a few seconds and then relax.  Do not strain.

Pause for a few moments before moving on to the next muscle group. For arms and legs, you can tense and relax in tandem, or alternate each side before moving to the next muscle group.

  • Lie flat on the floor or bed. Place a small pillow under your head or knees if needed.  Separate feet about hip width apart, and lay your arms a few inches away from your body, palms upward. Close your eyes, and passively watch the breath for a few cycles.
  • Release the feet and legs.  Curl the toes away from you, as if digging them into sand at the beach, hold for a few seconds, and gently relax. Tense the calves by stretching your toes toward your head. Relax.
  • Relax the mid-body.  Tense then relax the buttocks and back of thighs.  Then draw the navel down toward the floor, hold and release. Take a large breath so that the abdomen balloons outward.  Squeeze the shoulder blades together behind you. Tense and release the chest muscles. Shrug your shoulders up to your ears. Clench your fists and tense the elbows to raise forearms up, then press arms down into the bed or floor. Relax.
  • Bring attention to the head.  Gently stretch the back of the neck to elongate. Feel the weight of the back of the head against the bed or floor.  Tense and relax the face muscles by puckering the lips, scrunching the face and squinting.  Open the eyes wide, smile, then grimace, and open the mouth to relax the jaw. With eyes closed, “look” in different directions. Relax.
  • Scan the body.  Review head to toe, noticing any areas where tension is held.  Repeat the tightening and relaxation where needed, or repeat the entire sequence if you like.  Watch your breath for a few more cycles.

At first you may find it easier to listen to a guided progressive relaxation tour.

If you have bone or joint conditions, especially in the neck or back, talk to your healthcare team about exercises that are right for you.