Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation book


Updated on 25th April 2021

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



“Relaxation is letting go. Letting go of the day. Letting go of our worries. If stress draws us in, binds us, makes us ‘uptight’, relaxation frees us to be ourselves again. Body and mind are so closely connected that if we become anxious we become physically tense, but if we physically relax, we can also reduce our anxiety. Relaxation exercises bring the parasympathetic (or relaxation) branch of our nervous system into play. We calm down.”

Watts and Cooper (1992, Page 127).[1]


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Renata Taylor-Byrne

I wrote this book because I want people to experience for themselves the deep peace, mental calm, health improvement and reduction in anxiety and depression that comes from practising the Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) technique, which was created by Dr Edmund Jacobson.

Here are two examples of people who were greatly helped by his technique:

– Firstly, a former soldier experiencing intense physical pain.

– And then a college student experiencing strong anxiety, which was affecting her ability to get a decent sleep at night.

The first example: 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?

Not a lot, many people would think.

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The outcome of this soldier’s accident was as follows: Trying to gain 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 – (See Chapter 10 for the list of exercises, and how to do them) – 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. They could see 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 can fail to solve physical problems, leaves open the need for alternative treatments like Dr Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation.


The second example: A college student had been plagued for a long time by fears of the dark; being on her own; and of fires breaking out, and harming her. Part of the cause was this: 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 she had to have the room illuminated all night. (This case is described in a book by Bernstein, Borkovec and Hazlett-Stevens, 2000, Page 18, also in the References list, below).

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 stress of the travel and the new location, 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

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Dr Jacobson’s PMR system

The therapist treated her with progressive muscle relaxation training (in a shortened form, similar to that in Chapter 10, because of lack of time), and she practised the exercises twice a day herself; the second session each day being at her bedtime. As well as the daily relaxation sessions, she was instructed to gradually reduce the light level in her room – over a period of many days – and to do her second relaxation session in bed before her roommate came in.

The procedure she was following was designed to enable her to become slowly adapted to more challenging situations, which 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[1] – (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!


The speed of life has been increasing throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Living in this increasingly tension-creating world leads to physical problems in our bodies, and minds, as people try to cope with the increasingly high levels of stress and strain that life throws at us.

Dr Jacobson discovered that if people learned to conserve their energies, and avoid building up tension in their bodies, then they would be much healthier and happier.

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Have you noticed how animals relax quite easily? A dog, for example, can suddenly and totally stop all activity, and collapse on the floor, like a rag doll. And they do this frequently, every day. And they can spring up with full energy if they are stimulated by some outside event or call.

Have you seen a cat relax? It completely releases all its tensions and yields itself to the experience of the moment, as if luxuriating in the warmth of the sun. And it recharges its energy as it does so.

Most humans, by contrast look tense and strained.  Common signs of tension include: Shoulders too high; spines curled forward; brows furrowed; eyes dilated; breathing too shallow; fists and teeth clenched; and overly-serious, worried facial expressions.

For human beings, the benefits for the body and mind of relaxation are phenomenal. These benefits, which were once part of our birth-right are no longer well known, and urgently need to be rediscovered and restated. And this is what this book does for you. It will present to you a significant amount of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of this Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) technique.

Understanding tension and relaxation

Dr Art Brownstein described some common myths about the nature of relaxation, and how to achieve it.

“I am continually amazed at how many people don’t know or never learned how to relax. When I enquire, most people report to me that they need some external prop or activity, such as reading or watching TV, a mind-altering substance such as alcohol or a tranquiliser or a combination of these, to wind down from their busy days and help relieve their tensions. These methods often feel relaxing, but in most instances the mind is still actively engaged.

“Or, at the cost of achieving mental relaxation, consciousness, proper judgement and the body’s health (most commonly the liver’s), are sacrificed. At best, these methods and devices are only temporary and achieve only a small fraction of the relaxation that the healing system needs (in order) to function optimally.” (Brownstein, 2006, Page 362).

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of what living in a high speed culture like ours, in the UK, Europe and/or North America, does to their bodies – and their minds.

Here’s the bad news: Because of the increase in body tensions that living in our stressful, ever-changing environments create, there is an increase in physical disorders and diseases, including: heart disease, (the world’s number 1 killer), anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes and cancer, to name only the most serious illnesses. They are ever-present realities today.

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Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be like this! We can’t control (or we have very limited control) over the outside world/ other people/ the economy/ public health crises such as Covid 19, and so on. But we can control our own bodies to a significant degree! We can learn to reduce our physical tension, and enjoy a healthier and more enjoyable life. And if we learn to relax properly, and reduce our tension, then our children will model their behaviour on what we do.


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End of page one.

For more, please go to Page Two, Relax and Benefit…***