Steps for Progressive Muscle Relaxation


“An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body”.

Dr. Edmond Jacobsen

Muscle tension is a reaction of the body to stress, fear and anxiety. People might say they feel “tense” or “uptight” or develop muscle aches and pains including a tight jaw, tension headaches, backaches or chronic tension in the shoulders and neck.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique that can be helpful in reducing muscle tension and for achieving a state of relaxation. The technique involves systematically tensing up various muscles then releasing them suddenly and this needs to be practised regularly to gain maximum benefit. Long-term benefits of consistently practising this relaxation technique can include a decrease in generalized anxiety and a decrease in the frequency and duration of panic attacks.

People often develop stress-related symptoms in their workplace or academic environment e.g hunched over computer screens for long periods or straining to meet deadlines. Implementing relaxation techniques can relieve such symptoms. Practising relaxation can help a person under stress to feel better physically, calmer, and become more productive.


Step 1. Prepare for relaxation

  • Select your surroundings. Find a quiet location where you will not be disturbed. Minimise distraction to your five senses.
  • Assume a comfortable position with your whole body supported including your head.
  • Make a decision to put aside your worries.
  • Adopt a “let-it-happen” attitude. Let go.

Step 2. Slow down your breathing

  • Take three deep abdominal breaths, breathing out slowly each time. As you breathe out imagine all the muscle tension in your body flowing out.

Step 3. Tensing and relaxing muscle groups

  • Tense the muscle group described. Ensure that you can feel tension but not a lot of pain.
  • Keep the muscles tensed for about 7 to 10 seconds then release for 15 to 20 seconds. It may be helpful to say “relax” as your let go the tension.


  1. Hands and forearms. Clench your fists…hold…release.
  2. Upper arms A. Bring your forearms up to your shoulders to “make muscles” and tighten your biceps…hold…release.
  3. Upper arms B. Tighten the muscles on the underside  of your upper arms (triceps) by extending both arms out straight and locking your elbows…hold…release.
  4. Forehead. Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go as if you were surprised by something…hold…release.
  5. Eyes and cheeks. Clench your eyelids tightly shut…hold…release.
  6. Mouth and jaw. Tighten your jaw by opening your mouth as wid eas you can, as you might when you yawn…hold…release. Let your lips separate and allow your jaw to “hang loose”.
  7. Neck [with caution!] Face forward then pull your head back slowly, as though you are looking up to the ceiling. Be gentle with this muscle group to avoid injury. Hold. Relax. Repeat if your muscles are particularly tight.
  8. Take a few deep breaths and focus on the weight of your head sinking into whatever surface it is resting on.
  9. Shoulders. Tense your shoulder muscles as you bring your shoulders up towards your ears…hold…release.
  10. Shoulder blades/back. Push your shoulder blades back as if you were going to touch them together…hold…release. Repeat if this muscle group is particularly tense.
  11. Chest. Take in a deep breath, filling your lungs and chest with air…hold…release. Imagine any remaining tension flowing away as you breathe out.
  12. Stomach. “Suck” your stomach in…hold…release. Imagine a wave of relaxation spreading through your abdomen.
  13. Lower back [omit if you have any back problems!] Arch your lower back…hold…release.
  14. Hips and buttocks. Tighten your buttocks by pulling them together…hold…relax. Imagine the muscle sin your hips becoming loose.
  15. Upper legs. Tighten the muscles in your thighs all the way to your knees…hold…release.
  16. Calves. Tighten your calves by pulling your toes toward you, slowly…hold…release.
  17. Feet. Curl your toes downward…hold…release.
  18. Mentally check over your whole body for any residual tension. If a particular muscle group still feels tense repeat tighten-hold-release cycles.
  19. Imagine a wave of relaxation spreading from your head throughout your body and all the way to your toes.

You might like to start by using an audio recording of the instructions for Progressive Muscular Relaxation and later do the exercises from memory.

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Therapy dogs: pets as therapy

Australia Counselling mental health bloggerTHERAPY DOGS: pets as therapy

Research has shown that pets provide owners with psychological and physiological benefits. Pet dogs help people maintain an active routine. Pet owners are less likely to report feeling lonely. Therapy dogs lift mood and often provoke laughter.

According to Brian Hare, director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Centre, simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research has shown that petting a dog leads to the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both the dog and the human.

Ref. The Healing Power of Dogs by Amanda Fiegl, National Geographic News December 21, 2012


Our beautiful, gentle golden retriever (seen with me in the photograph) is a wonderful companion. He likes a lot of affection and he receives it!

We never come home to an empty house…no, we always come home to a house full of dog! He dances and runs with his tail up and wagging furiously then brings us a toy, begging us to play a game. We talk to him, pat him, play with him, love him. He makes us laugh every day. We call him our “chum dog”.

Our golden retriever was trained as a pets-as-therapy dog. I took him to interact with mentally ill people and also visited nursing homes where frail elderly people enjoyed patting him and reminiscing about the dogs they used to own. As a therapy dog our retriever brought smiles to the faces of so many emotionally and physically fragile people and he enjoyed their attention.


GROUND ZERO 9/11 search and rescue dogs: therapeutic role

A golden retriever whose name is “Bretagne” (pronounced Brittany) was one of nearly 100 search and rescue dogs that worked in rescue and recovery following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Her owner is Denise Corliss.  Bretagne and Denise were members of Texas Task Force 1; they were deployed to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. Bretagne is now sixteen years old and the last Ground Zero rescue dog alive. See the following links:

Bretagne and Denise

Ground Zero Search and Rescue


Denise and Bretagne

See Bretagne’s  “birthday bash” below:

In this youtube video Denise reveals that she didn’t anticipate the role the working rescue dogs would play as therapy dogs. Her own working dog Bretagne helped her get through her experience at Ground Zero, giving her support and comfort. Bretagne was also a therapy dog for the various workers at Ground Zero. If you are a dog lover, watch the video and be moved…


SCHOOL SHOOTING: Therapy dogs called “K9 Comfort Dogs”

The “Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting” occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, USA,  when a gunman fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members. A team of nine specially trained golden retrievers were taken to act as therapy dogs: “K9 Comfort Dogs”. The K9 teams visited schools, churches, activity centres and private homes in the community.

“One boy confided in the gentle-faced golden retriever about exactly what happened in his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day—which his parents said was more than he’d been able to share with them. A little girl who hadn’t spoken since the shootings finally started talking to her mother again after petting one of the “comfort dogs.” Groups of teenagers began to open up and discuss their fear and grief with each other as they sat on the floor together, all stroking the same animal.”

Ref. “The Healing Power of Dogs” Canines bring comfort to Newtown survivors and others in crisis.

Amanda Fiegl, National Geographic News, published 21/12/2012/   See the following link:

2 year-old with therapy dog

The team of golden retriever therapy dogs was used during grief counselling sessions and to ease the tension and anxiety.

See the following links:

K-9 comfort dog 

Comfort dogs with children