Friday 9 August 2019

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

*** If you believe that you or your child may benefit from Progressive Muscle Relaxation, please speak to a trusted medical professional. ***

Several years ago, I came across a book titled The Angry Octopus by Lori Lite in which the reader is introduced to relaxation techniques that they can use when experiencing BIG emotions. As the reader progresses through The Angry Octopus, the characters encourage the reader to tense and then relax their muscles starting at their feet and gradually moving up their body ending with their face. This is one book that even after three years, O keeps going back to when she is anxious, sad or frustrated.

I was recently talking with one of O's therapists and she mentioned the term "Progressive Muscle Relaxation," and my brain clicked that this is what The Angry Octopus is all about.

Essentially The Angry Octopus is a story about, well, an Octopus that is angry. A sea child who notices the angry Octopus, teaches the Octopus how to be the boss of his body and his anger, how to calm down and see things more clearly through simple muscle relaxation.

Finding a sense of peace and calm in our day to day lives can be difficult, especially for children. There are many, many different relaxation techniques that we can use to relax our bodies and minds as well as to manage anxiety and other mental health issues. These can be anything from breathing exercises to meditation, mindfulness to gentle physical activities such as yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is yet another strategy that we can use to assist in the relaxation of our body and mind.

The aim of Progressive Muscle Relaxation is to reduce the feelings of tension that we all feel at times. In turn relaxing our bodies will lower our stress levels and assist us to feel much more relaxed.

One of our bodies natural reactions to fear, anxiety and stress is muscle tension. From experience, when I am feeling stressed or anxious, my neck muscles begin to tense up and I usually end up with a migraine. If we are in a potentially dangerous situation, this is a good thing as our bodies are preparing to fight or run (flight) away from the situation. However in this day and age, we will rarely need to fight or run away but the primitive part of our brains still kick into action. During times of stress, you may not even realise that your muscles are becoming tense - you may just clench your teeth slightly so that your jaw feels tight.

When practising Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercises, you tense up particular muscle groups and then relax them before moving onto another muscle group. You may start at your feet and move your way up your body to your face, one muscle group at a time.

With any new relaxation technique, learning to relax can take a little bit of practise. But the more you practise something, the more helpful the technique will be in the long run. The great thing about Progressive Muscle Relaxation is that it can be practiced anywhere and anytime, it can be learnt by almost anyone and it really only requires ten to twenty minutes of practise a day.

The benefits of practising progressive muscle relaxation are that you will learn how to relax your body and mind, and you will become more aware of how your body and muscles respond to stress and tension.

So what do you need?

A quiet area, preferably with no music or other sounds, think no television or radio, and you should try to minimise the distractions to your other senses as well. Think low lights, not too busy areas. You'll need something to relax on, a bed, yoga mat on the floor or a comfortable couch even. Make sure that where ever you chose to sit or lay down, you are truly comfortable and able to relax every part of your body.

You'll also need to set time aside so that you are able to relax. When you do, truly allow yourself to relax and slow your breathing down. We do Progressive Muscle Relaxation on a regular basis with O. I find that when we do this together, O relaxes even more. At times, we will go from her toes right up to her head and face. On other occasions, we may only practice a few areas on her body. It really depends on her mood and how much time we have.

When you are ready to begin, tense a group of muscles, one group at a time. we find it useful to start at our toes and gradually move up towards our head and face. When you tense the group of muscles, hold the tense for 5 seconds and then relax for ten seconds before moving onto the next group. When you tense a muscle group, make sure that you can physically feel the tension but don't tense too tight that you are in pain. When you are tensing a muscle group, breathe in and when you release the tense, breathe out.

And if you have any existing injuries or medical conditions, please seek advice from a trusted medical professional before practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

This is a general run down of what we do!

Feet - Curl your toes downwards like you're trying to make a ball with your feet. O then likes to push her toes upwards like she's trying to reach the sky.
Lower legs - Tense your calf muscles.
Upper legs - Tense your thighs and quads.
Hips and Buttocks - Squeeze your buttocks muscle.
Chest and abdomen - Breathe in deeply and fill up your lungs and chest with air. Then slowly breathe out.
Hands and forearms - Make a fist and squeeze as tight as you can.
Upper arms - Bring your forearm up to your shoulder to make a muscle.
Shoulders - Tense the muscles in your shoulder as you bring your shoulders up to your ears.
Shoulder blades and back - Push your shoulder blades back as though you are trying to almost touch them together.
Neck - Do this movement carefully and slowly. Bring your face forward with your chin trying to touch your chest and then move your head slowly back, as though you are trying to look up at the ceiling.
Mouth and Jaw - Open your mouth as wide as you can as though you are yawning.
Eyes and Cheeks - Squeeze your eyes shut.
Forehead - Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go, as though you are surprised by something.
Finally, relax your entire body and allow every muscle in your body to let any remaining tension out.

When you have finished and are ready to keep going for the day, allow yourself a few moments to stay seated (or lying down) until you become alert.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Progressive Muscle Relaxation. I would also highly reccomend The Angry Octopus as a starting point in explaining Progressive Muscle Relaxation to children.


  1. This sounds incredible. Of course I always hear of stretches or yoga positions that are suppose to help ease tension and lower stress, but I didn't realize how much we can do to help ourselves. Thanks for sharing and bringing this to my attention!

  2. I am loving this post! I am new to Yoga and am trying to make it a daily habit as I can for sure use the help with relaxing and easing my tensions. I too am like you and get a tense neck and then a migraine.... I am going to be taking advantage of your tips here as I got some new Yoga gear and a mat and am ready to really make this a daily thing so that I can see real results :)

    1. This has certainly helped me with my migraines, I hope that it helps you too xx

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing this! I've heard a lot of people raving about how yoga could help to ease tensions and get relaxed, and your tips sound really awesome. Would love to start doing the steps that you do immediately. ~ Ola @ WanderWithOla

  4. I love this post so much! I'd never heard of PMR before but highly suspect all 3 of my littles could benefit from this. Going to read a bit more about it and give it a try! Thank you!!!

  5. I have never actually done yoga, but I need to because I have heard how relaxing it is for your body and mind. This book does look like a good one to read. vicky

  6. This technique also works well for getting a good nights sleep. I often do this once in bed before going to sleep.

  7. Thankfully, I am more relaxed now. But it isn't natural. It;s chemically induced since I am taking medication. But at least, I am not so stressed.


I would love to hear your thoughts on my blog. I do read all the comments that are posted. Thanks so much for stopping by. Jen xx