Monday, November 13, 2006

Release-Only Muscle Relaxation

Most people who have agoraphobia practice progressive muscle relaxation. That is the practice of tensing, holding, then releasing, each of your body's major muscle groups. The purpose of progressive muscle relaxation is not only to relax your muscles, but also to learn to feel the difference between what each muscle group feels like in the tense state versus the relaxed state. That may sound like an obvious difference, but tension can often be subtle, and many people with agoraphobia let tension creep into their body and become quite pronounced before they notice its presence.

Once you have learned to feel the difference between the tensed and relaxed state of your muscles, you are ready to move on to a shorter version of progressive muscle relaxation called "release-only relaxation."

In release-only relaxation, as the name suggests, you relax all of your muscles in progressive fashion but you skip the first step in traditional muscle relaxation. Instead of first tensing each muscle group before releasing, you relase each of the body's major muscle groups.

Relase-only relaxation allows you to practice progressive muscle relaxation in half the time.

In practicing release-only relaxation, the goal is to develop the mental concentration to be able to let all of the tension go from each muscle. Developing this ability will depend upon your ability to recongize the difference between the feel of a tense muscle and a deeply relaxed muscle.

How to practice release-only relaxation:

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and in quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Loosen any tight clothing. You may close your eyes or leave them open if you wish.

Work through each of the following muscle groups each time you release-only muscle relaxation, concentrating on each muscle group and letting all of the tension go:

· Face
· Neck and shoulders
· Chest
· Back
· Stomach/abdomen
· Biceps
· Hands and forearms
· Buttocks
· Thighs and hamstrings
· Calves
· Feet

As you focus on each muscle group, practice deep, lower abdominal breathing. Breath in slowly through your nose, hold each breath for a few seconds, and then breathe out slowly through your mouth while picturing the tension leaving each muscle group with each exhalation. As you focus on each group of muscles, it may help to imagine them getting warm and heavy.

Although release-only relaxation may seem simpler than traditional progressive muscle relaxation, don't be fooled. It takes a lot more skill and concentration to release the tension from your muscles without tensing them first. You must also become acutely aware of what muscle tension feels like so that you do not let tension creep back into the muscles when you move on to focus on a new muscle group.

Here are some tips for successful practice of release-only relaxation:

1) Don't try to force your muscles to relax, just let go and let the muscles relax.

2) If you have any problems relaxaing a certain muscle group, just take a deep breath and try again. If you keep having trouble it's okay to skip it and move on, or come back to that muscle group later.

3) Don't be critical if you can't do this perfectly the first time. Most people take time to learn this skill.

4) Allow yourself at least two weeks with two practice sessions per day to master this skill. Keep practicing until you can relax your whole body in 5-7 minutes using release-only techniques.

5) Just as with traditional progressive muscle relaxation, you may want to record a script with soft relaxaing music in the background to guide you through your practice.

Learning to relax your entire body in a shorter and shorter amount of time is an important skill to learn in recovering from agoraphobia.