Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), also called ‘body scan’, is especially helpful for times when you’re feeling restless or finding it difficult to focus. PMR helps you to focus on yourself, getting you to tense and relax your muscles as you mentally scan over your body.
It’s a great way to focus your attention and be present, which is at the very heart of mindfulness practice.
How to do it
You can use apps such as Insight Timer to guide you through a PMR sequence. While apps can be helpful, you can also easily do it yourself at home without assistance.
Start by getting into a comfortable position away from distractions like the TV, radio or mobile notifications. You may choose to close your eyes to keep your focus. It’s also a good idea to wear comfy clothes when you’re doing any kind of meditation.
Breathe deeply, and begin by tensing the muscles in your face. Squeeze your eyes shut, wrinkle your forehead and clench your jaw for five seconds. Then relax your muscles and take a deep breath. It may help to say ‘relax’ as you relax the muscles.
Next, move onto the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Continue to tense and relax your muscles as you scan down your body, being careful around any areas of pain or injury.
At the end of your routine, notice if any muscles still feel tense. If they do, you can repeat the exercise in that area a few more times.
When to do it
This is completely up to you! Some people prefer first thing in the morning as a way of waking up and preparing their mind and muscles for the day. Other people prefer to practice just before bed, as a way of winding down and preparing for sleep. PMR can be helpful if you're feeling overwhelmed, as it helps ground you and be more in the moment. You could try doing it at a few different times during the day and see what works best for you.
Benefits of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
PMR has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help to lower your heart rate. This makes it a great thing to do during particularly stressful times, such as before an exam or after you’ve had an argument.
Multiple studies have shown that PMR can have physical benefits too, including reduction in blood pressure and improvement of overall quality of life. It’s commonly used with dementia patients and to help people quit smoking.
Other ways to practice mindfulness
Aside from progressive muscle relaxation, there are plenty of other useful ways you can practice mindfulness, such as:
If you’re new to mindfulness, PMR can be a great way to get into the practice. You could also check out some apps like Headspace (not us!) or Smiling Mind. Fitting self-care into your daily routine can do wonders for your mental and physical health.