Release Only Relaxation

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Now that you've felt the difference between tensing and relaxing each muscle group, you're ready to move on to the next stage of applied relaxation training. As you might guess from its name, release-only relaxation cuts out the first step in progressive muscle relaxation: the tensing step. This means that you can cut the time down by half (or more) that you need to achieve deep relaxation in each muscle group.

With practice, you'll find that mental focus alone is enough to drain your muscles of their tension, with no need for you to tense them first. Developing this skill depends on your ability to recognize the difference between clenched muscles and deeply relaxed wes. Be sure that you're comfortable with progressive muscle relaxation before you begin :he following release-only instructions.

A. Sit in a comfortable chair with your arms at your side and move around a bit until you're comfortable.

B. Begin to focus on your breathing. Breathe in deeply and feel the pure air fill your stomach, your lower chest, and your upper chest. Hold your breath for a moment as you sit up straighter ... and then breathe out slowly through your mouth, feeling all tension and worry blow out in a stream. After you've exhaled completely, relax your stomach and your chest. Continue to take full, calm, even breaths, noticing that you become more relaxed with each breath.

C. Now relax your forehead, smoothing out all the lines. Keep breathing deeply ... and now relax your eyebrows. Just let all the tension melt away, all the way down to your jaw. Let it all go. Now let your lips separate and relax your tongue. Breathe in and breathe out and relax your throat. Notice how peaceful and loose your entire face feels now.

D. Roll your head gently and feel your neck relax. Release your shoulders. Just let them drop all the way down. Your neck is loose, and your shoulders are heavy and low. Now let the relaxation travel down through your arms to your fingertips. Your arms are heavy and loose. Your lips are still separated because your jaw is relaxed too.

E. Breathe in deeply and feel your stomach expand and then your chest. Hold your breath for a moment and then breathe out slowly in a smooth stream through your mouth.

F. Let the feeling of relaxation spread to your stomach. Feel all the muscles in your abdomen release their tension as it assumes its natural shape. Relax your waist and relax your back. Continue to breathe deeply. Notice how loose and heavy the upper half of your body feels.

G. Now relax the lower half of your body. Feel your buttocks sink into the chair. Relax your thighs. Relax your knees. Feel the relaxation travel through your calves to your ankles, to the bottoms of your feet, all the way down to the tips of your toes. Your feet feel warm and heavy on the floor in front of you. With each breath, feel the relaxation deepen.

H. Now scan your body for tension as you continue to breathe. Your legs are relaxed. Your back is relaxed. Your shoulders and arms are relaxed. Your face is relaxed. There's only a feeling of peace and warmth and relaxation.

I. If any muscle felt hard to relax, turn your attention to it now. Is it your back? Your shoulders? Your thighs? Your jaw? Tune in to the muscle and now tense it. Hold it tighter and release. Feel it join the rest of your body in a deep, deep relaxation.

The directions for release-only relaxation may seem simpler than those for progressive muscle relaxation, but the tasks involved are actually a bit more complex. Be certain that you are draining all of the tension out of each muscle you focus on. Don't let the tension creep back in as you turn your attention to different muscles. When you stand up after a session of release-only/ you should feel as relaxed (or more so) as you did after a session of progressive muscle relaxation.

Of course, you don't want to stress yourself out by pushing yourself through a set of strict directions. Try to allow your body to relax, rather than forcing it. If you have trouble with a particular step, take a deep breath and try it again—or skip it. Let negative, critical thoughts blow away with each breath and hold on to the feeling of success and deepening peace.

Allow yourself one to two weeks with two practice sessions a day to master release-only relaxation. When you can relax your entire body in one five-to-seven-minute session, you're ready to move on to step three.

3. Cue-Controlled Relaxation

Cue-controlled relaxation reduces the time you need to relax even further—down to two or three minutes in most cases. In this stage, you will focus on your breathing and condition yourself to relax exactly when you tell yourself to. The instructions will help you build an association between a cue—for example, the command "relax"—and true muscle relaxation. Be sure that you are comfortable with release-only relaxation before you begin.

A. Make yourself comfortable in your chair, with your arms at your sides and your feet flat on the ground. Take a deep breath and hold it for a moment. Concentrate on blowing the worries of the day far, far away as you release the air in a smooth stream from your mouth. Empty your lungs entirely and then feel your stomach and your chest relax.

B. Now begin to relax yourself, from your forehead all the way down to your toes, using the release-only technique. See if you can relax yourself completely in thirty seconds. If you need more time, that's fine. (If you're making a tape, pause here for half a minute to allow time to relax.)

C. You feel peaceful and at ease now. Your stomach and chest are moving in and out with slow, even breaths. With each breath, the feeling of relaxation deepens.

D. Continue to breathe deeply and regularly, saying "breathe in" to yourself as you inhale and "relax" as you exhale. (If you're making a tape, record these words on the tape, allowing about eight seconds for each repetition.)

Breathe in . . . relax . . . Breathe in . . . relax . . . Breathe in . . . relax . . . Breathe in . . . relax . . . Breathe in . . . relax . . .

Feel each breath bring peace and calm in and float worry and tension out.

E. Continue to breathe this way for several minutes now, saying the words "breathe in" and "relax" as you breathe. (Do not record the words again on your tape; this section is most effective when you say the words to yourself in silence.) Focus all your attention on the words in your head and on the process of breathing. Feel your muscles relax more and more deeply with each breath. Let the word "relax" crowd every other thought from your mind. Close your eyes, if you can, to deepen your focus. (If you're making a tape, allow one to two minutes of silence before continuing to record the instructions.)

F. Now listen to the words again as you continue to breathe in . . . and relax. Breathe in . . . relax . . .

Breathe in . . . relax ... Breathe in . . . relax . . . Breathe in . . . relax . . . Breathe in . . . relax . . .

G. Continue to breathe, saying these words in your head, for a few minutes now. Feel each breath bring peace and calm in and float worry and tension out. (Stop recording the tape here.)

H. If you have time, repeat the entire process of cue-controlled relaxation after a recovery period of between ten and fifteen minutes.

Practice cue-controlled relaxation twice a day, as you did with the earlier stages. After each session, you may want to make a note of the amount of time you needed to relax and how deeply relaxed you became. Most people find that the actual time required to relax at this stage is shorter than they imagine. Aim to relax completely using cue-controlled relaxation within two to three minutes before moving on to rapid relaxation.

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