Posted on 28th August 2020
Relax Your Way to a Better Life:
Using Dr Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique for physical and mental health
By Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor
Problems of physical pain…
Physical pain and emotional distress rob people of the chance of happiness, contentment, and peace of mind. And the medical services which are supposed to help with physical pain and emotional distress are often inadequate or not up to the challenge.
Imagine you have jumped from a plane, with a parachute on your back; but the parachute fails to open; and you crash to the ground and break your back. If you are anywhere in Western Europe (including the UK) – or you are in the US and have good health insurance – then you are ‘in luck’. Because Western medicine is very good at emergencies like this; picking you up in an ambulance, taking you to Intensive Care; and so on.
But suppose you leave the hospital weeks later, in chronic pain – which often happens. Now you are out of luck, because Western medicine is not so good at helping with chronic pain, or any kind of chronic condition.
However, on the fringes of modern medicine, there is a solution to your problem of chronic pain. Here’s an illustration:
A former US army soldier came to Dr. Edmund Jacobson for help with the severe back pain he was experiencing all the time. The pain originated when he was a soldier, and he jumped from a plane to find his parachute would not open, and he crashed to the ground, breaking his back. His US army surgeons managed to save his life, but he was left with severe, chronic back pain.
What chance do you think this man would have, of living a normal life after this experience?
The outcome of this soldier’s accident was as follows: Trying to seek relief from the constant pain, he went to see Dr Edmund Jacobson, who was in his Chicago clinic. This man agreed to experiment with the exercises that Dr Jacobson had created, which were designed to teach him about tension in his muscles, and how to reduce and control it. He did the prescribed progressive muscle relaxation exercises for a number of months, until his chronic pain had mostly disappeared.
Then, on a first time visit to a golf course, he started to play a game of golf, and as he did so, some golf professionals watched him as he played. They could spot that he had natural talent for the game, and encouraged him to learn the sport properly. He followed their advice and, in time, became one of the most highly rated golf players in the US. (See page 91 of Jacobson’s 1976 book, which is listed in the References, below).
It seems almost miraculous that this man was able to make the recovery of spinal function and physical health described; but then progressive muscle relaxation is a little understood boon to good physical and mental health. The Western medical emphasis on (largely ineffective) painkillers (which have serious side effects), and on surgery, which often fails to solve physical problems, leaves open the need for alternative treatments like Dr Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation.
Problems with emotional wellbeing
Western medicine is similarly limited when it comes to dealing with anxiety, depression and other emotional problems. For example:
A college student had been plagued for a long time by fears of the dark; being on her own; and of fires. Her aunt had been killed in a fire three years earlier, and when she (this young student) tried to get to sleep each night, she had very strong images of scorching fires, and people in flames. This was obviously why she found it very hard to sleep at night; and she felt so vulnerable that she had to have someone in the room while she slept; and had to have the room illuminated all night.(This case is described in a book by Bernstein, Borkovec and Hazlett-Stevens, 2000, Page 18).
Eventually she went to see a therapist, and told the therapist that she had to go and study in another country in seven weeks’ time. She didn’t think she could handle the situation, and would have to drop out of the study programme.
How could this student handle the necessary changes needed for her to be able to continue with her academic commitments abroad?
A physical solution for a mental problem
The therapist treated her with progressive muscle relaxation training (in a shortened form because of lack of time), and she practised the exercises twice a day herself; the second session each day being at bedtime. As well as the daily relaxation sessions, she was instructed to slowly reduce the light level in her room, and to do her second relaxation session in bed before her roommate came in.
The procedure she was following was enabling her to become slowly adapted to more challenging situations, that she had previously feared (a dark room, with no-one else in it), and she was experiencing these situations in a very relaxed state.
She carefully followed the therapist’s instructions, and, by the time of the third interview, she was able to announce that her fears had greatly diminished, because of her growing skill at using the prescribed exercises to relax her body and mind, and to bring on sleep. Her training sessions and ‘in vivo’ practice – (the gradually darkening room and her increasing ability to feel comfortable going to sleep in a room on her own) – had paid off!
Anti-anxiety medication and CBT would not have produced such radical results. Working through the body is one of the best ways of calming the mind.
About this book…
This book sets out to teach you how to use Jacobson’s radical approach to illness-inducing physical tension and health-inducing relaxation. The rationale behind this system is explained; and evidence is presented that this system can help you with the following problems:
– Stomach and digestive problems;
– Pain relief;
– Anxiety, depression and fatigue;
– Test and exam anxiety;
– And several others.
The scientific research underpinnings of this system are also presented.
The book is written in simple, accessible language, and it is designed so that you can go straight to the aspect of relaxation, or the specific problem, that you are most interested in, by checking out the chapter headings.
I wrote this book because of apparent widespread ignorance about the healing power of full-body relaxation. I wanted to promote ‘scientific relaxation’ as created by Dr Jacobson, which he named progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).
If we learn to spot when our muscles are tense, experience this in our muscles and then let go of the tension, this experience of total relaxation will help us heal, sleep much better, reduce our stress and anxiety, help us perform physical skills more fluently and increase our sense of physical and mental well-being and joy in life.
To reap the rewards of this technique, you need to do it every day, for just a few minutes. You may find that you fall asleep automatically, for a few minutes; and this will benefit your body and mind, as you may be catching up on a sleep deficit. Slowly and surely your energies will increase to you and transform the quality of your life!
The benefits of PMR…
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) yields a variety of benefits, including:
– Lowered stress levels;
– The development of a feeling of well-being;
– Lowered blood pressure and heart rate;
– Decreased muscle tension;
– Reduced need for oxygen;
– Reduced fatigue and anxiety;
– Improved quality of life and reduced blood pressure among people with heart disease;
– Reduced migraine headaches;
– Reduces some forms of chronic pain;
– Improved sleep, and insomnia relief;
– Help with smoking cessation;
– Improvement in cognitive (thinking) performance for people with dementia;
– Increasing or activating the production of opiates (or our innate pain killers);
– Promoting optimal immune function.
– Improving sports performance;
– Improving public performance skills for athletes, sportspeople, actors, teachers, students and media presenters;
– And generally improved quality of life.
Furthermore, this system of relaxation is easy to learn and can be used almost anywhere.
Who is this book written for?
This book is designed to be helpful for:
1. Self- help enthusiasts, who want to learn how to make the most of their physical and mental energy, as they pursue their goals in life.
2. People experiencing pain who have been unaware of how relaxing their muscles and reducing their physical tension can lessen the pain they are experiencing.
3. Professional coaches, counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists and social workers who want to add elements of progressive muscle relaxation therapy to their normal face to face work with clients.
4. Students starting out on their professional careers who want to learn how to manage their energy as they face the inevitable exams, presentations, skills assessments and other challenges in their roles.
5. Professional sports people, actors, public speakers, television presenters and those who perform their jobs under public scrutiny.
6. This book is also for people who work ‘on the front line’ in their day to day jobs, and need to manage their energy in the face of the many demands on their time: whether as a new parent, family carer, or dealing with the public in many types of occupations.