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How to Relax
In learning to relax, you must cultivate sensitive observation of your internal sensory world. In Progressive Relaxation , for instance, you first learn to recognize a state of tension in a localized region of the body; and second, you learn to contrast the tension signal with the state of elimination of tension, which is relaxation. You systematically tense each major muscle group so that you can learn to identify the tension sensation for that muscle group. You study that particular tension signal and then eliminate it by relaxing the muscle group.
In addition to relaxing the localized tensions in the various muscle groups, you learn to release a more generalized, low-level of tension that you chronically carry throughout the limbs and large muscles of your body. This generalized, widespread tension is a residual one which is that of fine, continuous contraction of muscle fibers, along with some slight localized movements. Localized relaxation of muscle groups allows one to relax a particular, limited group of muscles. A different technique is required to reduce these widespread, generalized tensions. In Progressive Relaxation , control comes from tensing an entire limb very gradually, then gradually relaxing it over a period of time. This procedure, with sufficient practice, can allow you to relax generalized residual tension down to zero, thus helping to really relax your whole body.
In Progressive Relaxation , then, two types of relaxation are practiced - tensing and relaxing of various localized muscle groups, and tensing and relaxing of a whole limb or the trunk. By thereby judiciously manipulating the skeletal muscles you can often control bodily activities and bring them back to normal, provided there are no irreversible maladies that have progressed too far to be reversed.
What Relaxation Can Do For You
Here is a look at some of the problems that may be partially or totally relieved through sensitive application of principles of clinical relaxation.
Gastrointestinal problems such as spastic colon, colitis, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, ulcer active colitis, spastic esophagus can often be helped. As there is progress in learning to relax the entire body, with concentration on the abdomen, many of these conditions may gradually improve. If you can develop a state of tranquility throughout the gastrointestinal tract, the resultant reduced activity may even help heal a ulcer. Relaxation during eating, and eating slowly, is of critical importance.
Cardiovascular disorders may also be relieved, since tension often contributes to their development. We believe that high blood pressure results from skeletal muscle tension in the following way: If one over-tenses as a reaction to facing ever-present stress, increased cardiovascular activity can become relatively permanent. Initially the skeletal muscle tension produces excessive contraction throughout the body of small blood vessels, called arterioles. Arterioles contain smooth (involuntary) muscle. When the skeletal musculature causes the smooth musculature to constrict, an increase in pressure within the arterioles results. In turn, there is an increase in blood pressure throughout the body.
Momentary stress can temporarily increase blood pressure. Continued contraction of the skeletal musculature can produce chronic constriction of the arterioles, resulting in consistent high blood pressure. If an individual seeks proper treatment before there is permanent organic damage to the cardiovascular system, the process can be reversed. Not only can one lower blood pressure, but heart rate too can be lowered by relaxing the skeletal muscles. At least a partial answer to high blood pressure and coronary heart disease can result from effective tension control.
Relaxation can also diminish or eliminate pain . Tension apparently exacerbates pain and such subjective distress can often be reduced when you relax. The more you try to fight it, the worse pain seems to get. Relaxing the eye musculature is often especially helpful in the reduction of pain.
There are many types of headache, common ones being tension headaches and migraines. Some migraines can be helped by controlling tension. Tension headaches are susceptible (by definition) to treatment by relaxation. Pains are often primarily in the brow or back of the head. The primary controlling muscles for tension headaches are usually the eyes. Therefore you can practice controlling your headache by controlling the tension in your eyes. The neck muscles, as physiologists know, are the extensions of the eyes, so you should learn to relax your neck muscles too. You can also practice wrinkling your forehead, frowning, and systematically tensing and relaxing the eyes themselves. Diligent instructed practice can most assuredly relieve tension headache and can at least help with other variations.
Arthritis in some forms can also be helped by relaxation techniques. Inflammation of joints can be aggravated with tight muscles and bracing habits.
Chronic fatigue is another problem that often responds to relaxation therapy. In an advanced stage of practice you may be able to learn to sleep in a truly relaxed state. But sleep and relaxation are not synonymous. Mental processes, for instance, continue during sleep, but they diminish during relaxation.
Since we are talking about mental processes, let us turn to psychological and emotional problems that may be helped by relaxation. First, a word about how you use your muscles during mental processes. The most important muscles for controlling mental activity are the skeletal muscles of the eyes and of the speech region - the lips, tongue, jaws, cheeks and throat. During the silent speech of thought there are slight movements of the speech muscles, just as there are large movements during overt speech. When you think to yourself that you want to perform a given overt act, the muscles of the lips, tongue, cheeks, jaws and throat tense to a very slight degree. You usually do not normally see these muscle patterns in yourself or others, but laboratory equipment allows us to extend the scope of our senses to actually observe them. Many experiments lead to the sound conclusion that covert muscle activity occurs during all functions of the mind.
A list of functions of the mind wherein systems of the body interact would include thoughts, dreams, hallucinations, fears and anxieties. The principal bodily systems involved are those of the receptors (eyes, ears, etc.), the brain, the skeletal muscles and the autonomic system.
Any interruption in the neuromuscular circuits that connect these systems will eliminate thoughts, preventing them from occurring. The simplest, most natural way to interrupt these circuits and thereby to cause your mind to be tranquil is to relax your muscles.
If you relax the muscles of your tongue, lips, jaws, throat and cheeks, thought components having to do with verbal mental activity can be reduced or eliminated. By relaxing the complete set of muscles around the eyes, visual components of your thoughts can be relaxed away. By relaxing all the muscles of the body, mental processes can actually be brought to zero. This ultimate state of relaxation, which is straight physiology having nothing to do with mysticism, has been achieved many times by experts in Progressive Relaxation.
In controlling undesired mental phenomena, one first must develop a highly cultivated ability to observe internal sensory signals. Those with complaints of a mental nature may learn to observe small muscle tensions present when they experience their particular complaint. These tensions are the ones in control of neuromuscular circuits that are activated when unwanted mental acts are generated. Neuroses, fears, phobias, worries, insomnia, and depression may all be minimized or even eliminated with clinical relaxation training.