Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is the relaxation technique that I have had the most success with, (and I have tried many of them!) – by that we mean a technique to help in the moment with stress and anxiety, as opposed to something like mindfulness meditation or another meditation technique, which works best as a regular practice that over time reduces anxiety.

A clinical trial comparing Progressive Muscle Relaxation with medication for reduction of anxiety and depression in cancer patients showed that, with training, patients experienced similar results using this relaxation technique compared with those receiving anti-anxiety medication.

Many people I know use these techniques every night before lying down for sleep and find that it helps them to have a much more restful night and fight insomnia.

The technique requires at least a couple of weeks of regular practice before you can have a sense of how it will work for you.  At first, it may seem awkward or even distracting to concentrate on each part of the body in a progressive relaxation exercise, but after a few times it gets easier and begins to seem more effective.


  • Lie down in a comfortable position on your bed or on a carpeted floor.
  • Relax your body, position yourself as needed so that you can let go of all the muscle tension in your body.
  • Use a breathing technique to begin the exercise, or just feel your breath getting deeper as you anticipate achieving a new level of relaxation.
  • Then, muscle group by muscle group, usually starting with your feet and moving up, you tense each part of the body, and then relax it. Surprisingly, by tensing the muscles first you actually achieve a measurably greater level of relaxation in the end.

If you would like some coaching in the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, try one of these CD’s, available from Amazon:

Relaxing Ways for a Stressful World (Audio CD or MP3)

Progressive Relaxation and Autogenic Training. Carolyn McManus, PT, MS, MA & Stella Benson (Audio CD or MP 3)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation  Beth Salcedo, MD (Audio CD or MP 3)


A randomized clinical trial of alprazolam versus progressive muscle relaxation in cancer patients with anxiety and depressive symptoms.

J C Holland, G R Morrow, A Schmale, L Derogatis, M Stefanek, S Berenson, P J Carpenter, W Breitbart, and M Feldstein. Journal of Clinical Oncology 1991 9:6, 1004-1011