Relaxation techniques by the NHS
We are going to work through the instructions in a set sequence. We'll start with the arms, then the legs, then breathing, body, head, face and mind, and then we'll spend a little time coming round. First of all, find yourself a comfortable position.
The first position is to lie on the floor or bed, or a carpet or rug. Have one pillow to support the head, but no others. Ensure the legs are uncrossed and rest the hands either on the tummy or the thighs, or gently at the sides of the body. If this position is very difficult, you may try a pillow under the thighs. However, this is not strictly recommended.
The second position is to sit on a chair at a table. Sit well back so the feet rest on the ground, then use as many cushions on the table as you want, to raise the height to support your arms and head. Lay your head and arms over the pillows being supported by them, and rest your head to which ever side is most comfortable.
The last of the recommended positions is to sit in a chair with a high back, so that your head has something to rest against. Sit well back in the chair, so that your back is supported and both feet rest on the floor. The forearms rest on the arms of the chair, as do the hands. These must not overhang the edge. The arms should be long enough to support your hands and your arms.
It may take a while to experiment with all three positions, and you may want to vary them at times when you prefer. However, once you've found one that suits you best, it may be helpful to stick to that.
We'll begin with the Arms:
First of all, focusing on the shoulders, pull your shoulders towards your feet. Go on gently pulling them straight down, away from your ears and feel what is happening. Do not move anywhere else. Do not pull the shoulders forwards or backwards. When you can't pull them down any further, stop. Don't be surprised if they should bounce up again slightly. Often, tense people have developed shortened muscles due to continually holding the shoulders upwards. In time, these will be stretched and the shoulders will stay down. Don't try to hold them down, just stop pulling. Now register the new position of ease. You will probably be able to register that the tops of the shoulders are lower than they were, and you'll therefore feel your neck is longer.
Now the Elbows:
The order, is elbows out and open. Push your upper arms slightly away from your sides. Don't lift the arms, just slide them on their support apart from the body. You are moving at the shoulder joints. Now gently open the angle at your elbows, by moving your forearms on their support, away from your upper arms.
(1) If you are lying on the floor, the upper arms and elbows rest on it all the time. In leaning forwards, your arms move away from the body and your forearms open at the elbows on the pillows.
(2) In the chair, your upper arms rest across the chair arms. The elbows will be just outside the chair arms, with your forearms lying on them. Be sure that the fingers also lie on them and not over the edge. When you feel the position is comfortable, stop moving. Now recognise the new position by feeling.
Now think about the Hands:
Keeping the heel of your hand resting where it is, only moving your fingers and both thumbs, stretch them out to be as long as possible. Go on stretching. Feel them opening out and stiffening, and the thumbs stretching away from the fingers. Extend your wrists upwards if you wish. Now stop doing that, and you will feel them lying on the support. Don't push them back into it, just stop stretching. Now feel the fingers. Notice the pads are resting touching something, your own body, the cushion or the chair arms, and register this new position of ease.
Now we'll move to the Legs:
First focusing on the hips, turn your hips outwards. Uncross the legs if there are crossed, and point the knees out to the sides. If you are in a position that is fitting, just swing your knees outwards. Now stop and feel this new position at your hips.
And now the Knees:
Move your knees until they are comfortable, and then stop. (You may not want to move your knees at all). If you are sitting, you may just simply want to adjust the angle of the knees a little. It's usually a small movement of your lower legs backwards or forwards at the knee joints. Stop when you feel comfortable.
And now the Feet and Ankles:
Push your feet away from your face. Do this slowly and carefully, so as not to get cramp in the long leg muscles.
(1) If you are lying, bend your feet down at the ankles and curl your toes.
(2) If you are sitting, your heels will rise slightly off the floor and your toes pressing into it. During this performance, you are getting reciprocal relaxation in the muscles on the fronts of the legs. We want this because of stressed position of the feet uses these muscles to keep the feet bending up at the ankles towards the face. In fact, when we give the order "push your feet away from your face", some people immediately bring them upwards the face because this is way they are used to. Now stop the movement. As you stop the movement, you will induce relaxation in the backs of your legs. When you've obtained relaxation in your lower leg muscles, feel the results. Allow your feet to dangle loosely, or be supported by the floor.
Now we'll pay attention to Breathing:
We want to make sure that you are using your diaphragm, the muscles that control breathing, to breathe slowly. Blowing your chest, but not quickly, high up in the narrow area of your chest as tense people do. I will explain briefly what you have to do, and then perform it yourself in your own time, keeping it as slow as possible, twice or at most three times. You should breath in and out though the nose, because inside it is arranged so that the air is warmed and filtered as it passes though. Now think about your lower ribs and the triangular area enclosed in front between the curve of your lower ribs on either side, and your waist below. As you breath in, this area gently expands forwards and to either side. Slightly lifting your ribs out sideways like the wings of a bird. As you do so, the air will flow into and through your nose to fill up your lungs. You have been using your diaphragm, but you won't be able to feel it's movement as you do not have any suitable sensory nerves. Obviously you cannot feel it by touch as it lies encased in your ribs, but you can feel the result of it's work as a slight increase of pressure in your abdomen and the movement in the ribs. Never hold your breathe, but when you are ready, breathe out slowly and easily, but not for unduly long. You will feel your ribs fall inwards and downwards again. This should be done without any effort. Don't sniff the air or force or blow it out. There's no need for huffing and puffing. All you need to do is to give a little extra attention to the area just above your waist and in front, and to do the movements of your ribs which you can readily feel. Never overdo breathing even if you're enjoying it. You may upset the respiratory centre of your lower brain who's job it is to regulate your breathing by the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood. Don't annoy it. It's not dangerous, but it may make you feel slightly dizzy.
And now the Body:
Push your body back into the support. You consciously push your whole body into the floor in the first position. If in sitting, push your body against the chair back or onto the table. Now stop. Feel the support holding your weight. Just register this new position and allow your body to lie slumped into the support.
And now the Head:
Push your head into the support. That will be in the same direction that you push your body, according to the position you are in. Just allow the support to take the weight of your head. Feel this new position and register.
And now the Face:
First of all the mouth. Drag your jaw downwards. Keep your lips closed, otherwise your mouth will get dry. Separate your lower teeth from your top teeth and slowly pull the jaw down. Feel as it happens. When your teeth are comfortably settled and you feel your heavy jaw hanging inside your mouth, stop. Now feel the slackness of your lips and savour this feeling as much as you can. If your tongue is fixed to the roof of the mouth, this is a stress position. Gently loosen it and make it lie in the middle of your mouth. As you do so, you may feel your gullet slacken. Take your time, feel your tongue loose in your mouth touching your lower teeth.
And now the Eyes:
You may have already closed your eyes because your brain has told them to do so. If not, close your eyes. This like every other order must be carried out in a precise way. Lower the upper lids down over the eyes. Do not screw up the eyes. Just imagine pulling the blinds down over a window. Try not to allow any flickering or blinking. This is difficult. In time, your eyelids will learn to stay down. Now stop these movements and feel the result. The result is darkness. This is very pleasurable, but don't let your mind wander off.
Now your Forehead:
Before you try to do this, I want to explain there is a large thin muscle enclosed in your forehead just under your scalp. It is like a large close fitting cap which gets smaller when it contracts. When you're tense, this is what happens. It's very difficult to relax this muscle as it does not control any joints. So try this: Begin to think of the area just above your eyebrows. Don't left these up, just think of smoothing up into your hair, over the top of your head and down the back of your neck. This can be difficult, but it's possible with practice. Try to think of this smoothing once or twice.
You have now completed the course around the body, and I hope you find yourself comfortable and enjoying the sensation of ease that you will recognise as relaxation. If you don't, repeat the course starting at your shoulders.
A note about the Mind:
Sometimes when the body is disciplined into quietude, the mind becomes more active. If so, then you must discipline your mind and not allow it to go off on it's own course. To do this, you have a choice. You could go over the sequence again rather more quickly, giving the exact order and then stopping, and feeling the result all round the body. Or you may prefer to leave your body lying perfectly relaxed, and occupy your mind with something quite different. Try to select something deliberately that moves along, like a song or a poem or a prayer that you like. It may be a multiplication table, but do not try to dwell on one thing. This is very hard work to concentrate. Allow your thoughts to gently move along. Or you might prefer to remember a happy sequence in the past, like swimming or walking along a shore, or though a wood or a shop. Don't plan the future or worry. Try to ignore all these worries. Force your mind to continue thinking along the pleasant path you have chosen. It's important to spend some time enjoying the results of your work.
Remember to allow yourself time to come round after relaxation. Always do this slowly, by making small movements in the fingers and toes, and then stretching the limbs and the body. Yawn if you can. Don't hurry. Sit up very slowly in your own time. If you where lying down, roll onto your side first and gently push yourself up into sitting. Stay there for a minute a two before standing. Remember that your blood pressure will have dropped and your circulation will have slowed, so try not to hurry. Give yourself time to think about what you are going to do. Try not to rush off into a flurry of activity, but give yourself time. Please remember it's important to practice relaxation. You may want to build it into your routine and have a set time of day when you practice. Don't be worried if you don't feel the results straight away. Just be aware that it is a skill which does take practice.
This concludes your session of relaxation techniques.
Note: This information is not medical advice. Always see your doctor if you have a health problem.