stress-why-take-autogenic-courseToday's lifestyles are often filled with stressful situations. In the morning we try to get to work on time and many of us get stuck in traffic and end up rushing to through the doors to make it. An average workday is stressful, which in fact is a good thing, since a little pressure keeps us motivated. However the pressure can last for the whole 8-10 hours period without sufficient time or an effective method to relax. Smoking a cigarette or going for a short walk can break the cycle of stress, but we all feel that the stress tends to return quickly.

 

The stress continues through out the day

At the end of the workday we feel tired, but we still need to get home, which means repeating the morning commute and fighting the same traffic. But at home we do not usually get a chance to rest, since we need to pick up kids or tidy up our apartment. By the time we are finished with our daily obligations it is time to go to sleep and we feel tired and exhausted. Some go to bed while others stay up late in order to have at least an hour or two just for themselves. Luckily sleep breaks the stress cycle if we sleep for at least 7 hours.

 

The stress cycle

stress-continues-in-the-morningThe next morning we repeat the same routine and we feel tired and exhausted and stress is present again at least until the weekend. So what is wrong here? The problem is our bodies were not built for this type of stress. We were built to manage extremely stressful situations, which last for several minutes at most. When the danger back in nature was eliminated (running from a predator) our bodies' equilibrium returned to a baseline in a matter of several minutes.

The normal stress we experience today is much lower, but constant throughout the day and can last for 16 hours until we finally go to bed. This can last for the whole week, the whole month, and the whole year for 40 years until we get to our retirement. All this time we did not break the stress cycle properly and this can quickly lead into health complications.

 

Stress affects our health

Stress weakens our immune system and leaves us susceptible to many health complications which can be as innocent as a cold or as serious as cancer. Symptoms of stress resemble symptoms of anxiety or depression and stress can in fact cause these disorders. Stress can cause hypertension and problems with cholesterol, which together can cause cardiovascular complications. Stress makes us edgy and can also affect our relationships with our partners, our coworkers and everybody around us. Stress in fact worsens almost every medical problem and therefore the need for relaxation is evident.

Not everybody shares the lifestyle described above, but everybody has experienced excess stress, and most people do not manage stress as they should. The problem is we actually do not experience true relaxation if we do not use relaxation methods or do sports. The nature of today's stress calls for deep relaxation, because we have constant stress day in and day out and watching TV or lying down do not relax us in the way that we need. So why take an autogenic training course? The answer is simple: our lifestyle demands it.

Autogenic training is a relaxation method, which elicits a relaxation response and enables deep relaxation. Today everyone is more or less under excess stress and we unconsciously adapt to these consistent stress levels that can last for several hours. Unfortunately, we usually don't reco-gnize the problem until our health has already been jeopardized.

 

 

Stress

 

stress-autogenic-trainingPracticing autogenic training breaks this stress abundance and allows us to take a big breath and slow down and look at everyday issues from a different, relaxed perspective. At the beginning of the course the stress levels return to a baseline quickly, but after several months of practice we gradually become more resistant to stress.

How to relax?

Autogenic training is a powerful technique and often significantly helps to mitigate stress related problems. It is impossible to predict what the result of autogenic training will be, because everyone is different, has unique problems and their own personality and genes. Nevertheless, autogenic training reduces stress and consequently brings positive results to our wellbeing. It also often allows us to enjoy the moment, the present.

 

 

Anxiety disorders

 

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you can expect positive changes, which are evident when you lower your stress levels. Here you must be patient and persistent with practice and also realize that some anxiety disorders are not only caused by chronic stress. Some can also have a genetic or traumatic cause (OCD, PTSD). However, since stress worsens every anxiety disorder, you can expect positive improvements in this regard along with all the benefits of a relaxed state. It is not rare that anxiety as a state is diminished altogether.

 

 

Insomnia

 

Insomnia is a common health issue and more than every second American reports some problems involving insomnia several times a week. If a criteria for daytime impairment because of poor sleep is added, this percentage falls to 10 percent. Autogenic training is a very effective tool to help alle-viate insomnia, but success also depends on the cause of the sleeping problems. Nevertheless, most clients who are undergoing a course or people using autogenic training report better and longer sleep, and have no problems falling asleep. When stress is the cause of insomnia, autogenic training can significantly help in dealing with insomnia.

 

 

Depression

 

depression-autogenic-trainingThere are several types of depression, causes of depression and levels of severity. Research has shown that relaxation can help mild to moderate depression, but here the cause of depression is not taken into account. With severe cases of depression, autogenic training is not expected to result in improvements. However relaxation can be a great support to medication after the symptoms begin to improve. Since depression is worsened under stress a patient can benefit from relaxation even if he or she is already on medication (this goes for unipolar depression but not bipolar depression). It is important that a patient with depression who is undergoing any relaxation method is also supervised by a psychiatrist.

 

Headaches

Autogenic training can help migraines and tension headaches. In research conducted by Spinhoven et al. patients with tension headaches reduced their headache activity and level of psychological distress significantly compared to those not practicing autogenic training. The positive effects that relaxation has on tension headaches vary from person to person, but where stress is the cause of headaches, relaxation can successfully help.

The evidence supporting the usefulness of relaxation in treating migraines is old but well-established. Autogenic training can help treat migraines by reducing both their severity and occurrence. The cause of migraines is again where the solution lies - if stress is the cause of a migraine, autogenic training can help.

 

 

Hypertension, restless leg syndrome, immune system, colitis, etc.

 

Autogenic training works where medical conditions are worsened by stress. This means autogenic training can be of use for many medical issues. Lowering stress has a pleasant effect on our wellbeing and often people appreciate this feeling the most. Autogenic training is no magic cure, but it is a great stress reducer and often this is all we need.

history-of-autogenic-training-johannes-schultzAutogenic training was developed by the German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in the 1920s. Schultz was influenced by the work of Oscar Vogt, a German physician and neurologist. Vogt researched sleep and hypnosis and was interested in the connection between the mind and body. During hypnotic trance patients reported heaviness and warmth in their limbs and other signs of deep relaxation. Schultz decided to reverse the idea of hypnosis, and thus developed autogenic training.

Schultz's idea was to suggest feelings of heaviness and warmth in the limbs and by doing that achieve deep relaxation. Schultz soon realized that repeating phrases, which focus on signs of deep relaxation (warmth, heaviness, a slow heart rate, etc), enables deep relaxation.

Luthe's and Schultz's work

Schultz studied his autogenic training and presented his research to the Medical Society in Berlin in 1926. In 1932 he published his book Das autogene Training and later with his companion Wolfgang Luthe wrote six volumes on Autogenic Therapy. In the volumes, they presented numerous carefully researched case studies about where and how autogenic training can be applied successfully. To this day the six volumes are considered the Bible for autogenic training therapists and are still used as instructions for teaching patients this relaxation technique in a safe way.

However, autogenic training is just one of the techniques that constitute autogenic therapy as Schultz described in Volume 1. The six standard exercises, which were developed by Schultz, were later modified by Luthe in a way to get the maximum benefit and safety for the patient. The core of the six standard exercises remained the same, but the exercises are structured in a way that allows more gradual and systematic learning of the technique and are influenced by Luthe's own research.

Autogenic training today

Today autogenic training has several activity centers throughout the world (including Japan, Germany, and the UK) with the same core of six standard exercises. However, in spite of its use-fulness and effectiveness, autogenic training is unfortunately still relatively unknown to the broader public. The potential of autogenic training or other relaxation techniques is vast, not only because of their low costs, as they do not require medication, but also because they have a wide spectrum of effects. Imagine a pill that improves sleep, lowers stress, lowers blood pressure, improves con-centration, treats migraines, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, enhances our immune system, helps fight cancer, improves overall wellbeing and more. Fortunately this medicine is already here, we just have to use it!

how-does-autogenic-training-workAutogenic training uses simple mental exercises, which are practiced in a passive mental state. Autogenic training, which uses suggestive phrases directed at certain parts of the body, is different from meditation techniques, which use mantras repeated silently. For instance, when we practice autogenic training the suggestion of heaviness in the limbs together with passive concentration, brings about deep relaxation. The phrase in this case is: "My arms and legs are heavy."

 

 

Relaxation response

 

The mechanism behind autogenic training and other relaxation techniques is a relaxation response, which is the opposite of a stress response. A relaxation response brings us back to equilibrium from a stressful day and also has recuperative effects. It suppresses our sympathetic nervous system and engages our parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces stress related hormones and prepares us to "rest and digest".

Over time, the regular elicitation of a relaxation response changes our susceptibility to stress, and we are able to manage more stress for longer periods of time. Of course no one is immune to stress, but people who regularly practice relaxation techniques are calmer and more immune to stressors. In the long run, psychologically lower stress intuitively brings about positive changes. Who has not seen a "spiritual" person who is regarded as calm and assertive?

Positive effects of relaxation (autogenic training)

Psychological effects:

  • Decreasing stress, anxiety, anxiety attacks, and depression
  • Decreasing the fear of death
  • Increasing the joy of living
  • Increasing positive emotions and attitudes towards life
  • Increasing self-confidence

Cognitive effects:

  • Increasing concentration and strengthening the mind
  • Increasing memory

 

Autogenic training works on the long run

positive-effects-of-relaxationAutogenic training requires a long term commitment. Practitioners recognize their progress gradually during the course and at the end of the 9 week course they look back and only then see the progress they have made. After several months of practice we can look back and realize how stressful our lives were before. Autogenic training is a tool for increasing our quality of life, and is also an activity that we devote only to ourselves.

We should look at autogenic training as an investment. Try to imagine how much a natural pill would cost if it lowered your blood pressure, increased confidence, boosted the immune system, increased positive emotions, memory, concentration, decreased anxiety, lowered stress, gave you energy, slowed the ageing process - and all without any noticeable side effects. Would you con-sider taking that pill? And how much would a lifetime supply of this utopian pill cost? Fortunately it already exists and it is not a pill - it is a relaxation technique called autogenic training!

what-is-autogenic-trainingAutogenic training (AT) or autogenics is a relaxation method, often referred as Western meditation. It uses simple mental exercises, which focus on different parts of the body (e.g. my right arm is heavy; my heartbeat is calm and regular; my breathing is calm and regular; my solar plexus is warm, etc). Once learned, these suggestions allow you to achieve deep relaxation in just 10 minutes. This relaxation method is practiced two or preferably three times per day and holds all the benefits of eliciting a relaxation response. Autogenic training is easy to learn and is not based on any religious beliefs, as it was developed by a German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in the 1920s.

How to learn autogenic training?

As with every new skill in life, this stress management technique requires some time and patience in order to learn it properly. The best place to learn autogenic training is in a therapist's office, where all your numerous questions and concerns can be best answered. Therapists hold the knowledge to overcome any difficulties that surface and may tailor the process to your particular needs. Another important role of a therapist or course is that it gives you additional motivation to continue.

How does autogenic training work?

During the practice of autogenic training your stress response is switched off and the so-called "fight or flight" mechanism is replaced with the "rest and digest" phase. During the rest and digest phase, your blood flows into your abdomen, stress hormones are lowered, blood pressure drops, immune system strengthens, and you can enjoy all of the positive effects of a relaxed state.

Relaxation can also help treat conditions that are caused by chronic stress. Autogenic training has been studied extensively and has been proven to help treat stress related problems such as:

  • anxiety disorders (panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, etc)
  • mild depression
  • migraines
  • tension headaches
  • stress related hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • insomnia
  • poor concentration
  • and many more.

What benefits does autogenic training have?

positive-effects-of-autogenic-trainingThe power of autogenic training is not just short-term, i.e. when we are relaxed. Regular practice of relaxation techniques enables you to withstand higher stress levels than a person not practicing any form relaxation. Practicing autogenic training for longer periods of time (i.e. 10 or more years) can also affect your gene expression, which leads to additional positive effects. In the long-term you become a more rational, calmer person. You also look at situations in your life differently, with less anxiety and a more positive outlook.

People report all sorts of positive changes, and studies have shown cognitive improvements such as increased memory, improved concentration and behavioral changes (including the ability to quit smoking, better relationship communication, etc). Many studies have been conducted, where relaxation methods and the lowering of stress response results in many benefits, which are not just psychological, but also physiological in nature. Excess stress leads to many different medical problems, almost all of which are worsened by stress.

The effects of autogenic training are similar to meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, applied progressive relaxation and many other forms of relaxing from a modern way of life. Although they all differ from one another in the way they achieve relaxation, they all have in common an elicitation of a relaxation response and contribute to overall health in a similar way. Once learned autogenic training can be practiced anywhere as long as you can sit or lay down. It can be practiced in an office, on an airplane, in a bus or in a park on a sunny day.