Progressive relaxation is performed by first tensing, and then relaxing, the muscles of the body, one group at a time. Muscle groups can be divided a number of different ways, but a common method is to use the following groupings: 1) Hands and arms; 2) head, neck, and shoulders; 3) torso, including chest, stomach and back; and 4) thighs, buttocks, legs, and feet. The patient lies or sits in a comfortable position, and then starts with the first muscle group, focusing on the feeling of the muscles and the absence or presence of tension. The patient then tenses the first muscle in the group; holds the tension for approximately five seconds; and releases and relaxes for up to 30 seconds. The contrast allows the individual to notice the difference between feelings of tension and feelings of relaxation. The procedure is repeated with the next muscle in the group, and so on, until the first group is completed. The patient then starts on the next muscle group.
Progressive relaxation can be guided with verbal cues and scripts, either memorized by the patient or provided on instructional audiotapes. The procedure remains the same, but the individual is prompted on which muscles to flex and relax, and given other cues about noticing the difference between the tense and relaxed state. Some individuals may prefer progressive relaxation that is prompted with a tape, because it allows them to completely clear their minds and to just follow the given instructions.
Paula Ford-Martin, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,