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Whole Body Relaxation


In progressive muscle relaxation, four muscle groups in the body are sequentially tensed and then relaxed, accompanied by slow, controlled inhalations and slow controlled exhalations.

Although this may sound like an easy exercise, believe it or not, it isn't! It requires practice.

If you are prone to rumination, repetitive negative thinking or intrusive thoughts, these may forcefully continue as you practice. That does not mean you are not doing it right or that the exercise is not working. Remind yourself that your inner critic has had decades of training. So when you notice that your mind wanders away from the exercise, label what is happening– i.e I am being critical, I am worrying - and get back to counting, even if you wander off 100 times during the exercise!


Place both feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. Sit upright, comfortably. Imagine an invisible string pulling you up from the top of your spine. Then imagine the rest of your upper body 'dangling' from that string, like a marionette.

Rest your hands overlaid on your tummy. Either close your eyes or focus your gaze on a point ahead of you (i.e a small spot in the wall).


Inhale as slow as you can and for as long as you can. Sense the cold air caress the back of your throat. This time however, rather than seeing your chest inflate as you breathe in, we want your tummy to inflate like a balloon. It's quite counterintuitive - when we breathe in, naturally our lungs fill up, and our chest area 'rises'. But here we want the tummy to 'rise', which may initially require you to forcibly push your tummy outward. Count the seconds it takes for your tummy to be full. Pause for 1 second. Then exhale as slow as you can and for as long as you can, mentally counting the seconds it takes to empty your tummy. Control your breathing, so that if it took say, 6 seconds, to fill your tummy with air, aim to exhale for at least 7 seconds or more. The exhaling needs to be slower (longer) than the inhaling - this is to avoid hyperventilating or increasing stress. Pause for 1 second and repeat.


Once you get the breathing process down, sequentially tense the different muscle groups as per below:

1. Hands & Arms: this time as you inhale (and count), also clench your fists as hard as you can, pointing these inwardly towards your biceps, pulling your fists toward your shoulders - it should sort of feel like your are 'flexing your biceps' for a bodybuilding competition. Once your lungs feel full, pause for 1 second, and as you exhale relax your muscles just as slowly. At the end of the exhalation, release your arms back to a resting position. Be aware of the difference between the tension you felt during the inhaling and the relaxation you feel as you exhale. Pause for 1 second.

2. Face: this time as you inhale (and count), tense the face muscles by clenching your teeth, forcing a smile across your face, and pressing your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Squeeze your eyes shut and furrow your eyebrows. It should feel like you are mimicking some crazy Joker face.Then exhale slowly (counting) while relaxing the areas you just tensed.Pause for 1 second.

3. Shoulders & Back: this time as you inhale (and count), lift your shoulders, as if you were trying to reach your ears - it should feel like the you are mimicking the posture of a cartoon character who is freezing cold. At the same time, try to push your hips a bit forward whilst arching your back. Try to feel the tension in the lower back. Hold the tension and then release with a long slow exhalation. If you feel any back pain or have back problems, skip this muscle group.Pause for 1 second.

4. Stomach, Buttocks, Legs: this time as you inhale (and count), squeeze your buttocks and straighten your legs in front of you. Try to slightly lift your feet off of the floor as this will tense the muscles in your stomach. Also, point your feet first downwards and then back towards your face to tense the muscles in your thighs and hips in an alternating fashion. Hold the tension and on the exhalation relax all the muscles.Pause for 1 second.

You may repeat the whole cycle s as many times as you like - start small (i.e for five minutes) and through practice, aim to repeat the above steps for a duration of 20 minutes.


Berking, M., Whitley, B., (2014). Affect Regulation Training, A Practitioners’ Manual. New York: Springer.

Jacobson, E. (1964). Anxiety and tension control: A physiologic approach . Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Co.

Mahoney, M., (2003). Constructive Psychotherapy, London: Guilford Press.

Ost, L-G. (1987). Applied Relaxation, Behav. Res. Ther. Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 397-409, 1987, Great Britain: Pergamon Journals, Ltd.


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