There are several commonly used relaxation techniques or methods of relaxation, all of which elicit a relaxation response. A relaxation response is the opposite of a stress response and enables deep relaxation with all the benefits of being relaxed. Relaxation activates the parasympathetic nervous branch and slows down the sympathetic nervous branch, which has recuperative effects on our bodies. Any relaxation technique or relaxation training demands some dedication and time in order to be mastered. In the long run, using a relaxation method has various positive health effects.
- lower blood pressure,
- lower heart rate,
- lower respiration rate,
- lower cholesterol levels,
- less tension headaches and migraines,
- lower stress hormone cortisol levels,
- lower norepinephrine levels,
- boosting of immune system,
- regulation of blood sugar and more...
(These are only physiological benefits, for even more benefits, see our article on Relaxation Response).
Which relaxation technique or training method is right for you? The answer to this question is short and simple: any of them, because 'something' is better than nothing. The best way to start is to take a course, where you will have guidance, motivation and supervision. If you try it on your own you will see how easily we abandon a new habit or technique, even if we could really benefit from it. Regular practice twice per day is the most difficult task in starting a new relaxation technique. The methods themselves are more or less easy to learn, but regular practice is where the problem is hidden.
Relaxation methods or techniques
These are some of the most known relaxation techniques or structured ways of relaxing, and are presented alphabetically below.
- Autogenic training
- Progressive muscle relaxation
To achieve health results you must practice each relaxation technique at least two times per day, one of which is in the middle of the day. This practice is necessary, because to lower stress in our life we need to break the stress circle during the day. In this way we can lower stress levels in the long run. The most effective time to practice a relaxation method is (first) 2 hours after we wake up, (second) after work and (third) before going to bed. We can have a (fourth) additional session (at noon or in the evening), but not more than that.
Autogenic training or autogenic therapy
Autogenic therapy is a relaxation training that was developed in Germany by J. Schultz in 1920s. The six standard exercises focus on various parts of the body, and by passively creating mental contact with these parts, we are able to achieve deep relaxation. Autogenic training is easy to learn and focuses on phrases, which allow even deeper relaxation, than using just a passive mental attitude and a mantra.
Positive aspects: deep relaxation in just 10 minutes, broadly researched and proven effective, systematically taught and supervised
Biofeedback uses several different reading meters, which monitor body's information such as temperature, heart rate, brainwaves, skin conductance, respiration rate, etc. These readings allow a person to control the described physiological processes and manipulate them in a way that benefits different health issues, lowers stress and induces relaxation.
Positive aspects: several modalities (different physiological readings) allow broad health applications, which are often unique; using biofeedback with other techniques (e.g. autogenic training) is common
Hypnosis elicits a relaxation response similar to other relaxation techniques, and today is also used to treat depression, anxiety or any other stress related problems. At first the use of hypnosis was more directed to behavior or habits, and it was even used by Freud, who later abandoned the technique. Today it can be successfully applied to any stress related problem. However, hypnosis is still seen as a state where we are more suggestible to changes in our behavior. Autogenic training uses the same principle; where instead of a hypnotic state uses an autogenic state (with affirmations), in which we are more susceptible to making positive changes in our lives.
Positive aspects: it can be self-induced the same as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation
There are so many meditation techniques available and so many ways of meditating it is impossible to describe it as a single field with similar characteristics. Nevertheless we can say that any meditation technique elicits a relaxation response, which is common to all relaxation methods. Every meditation or relaxation technique results in its unique EEG measurement and therefore is, in a way, different. The most researched meditation technique is probably transcendental meditation, which uses a pleasant sounding mantra to achieve a meditative state. The health benefits of meditation techniques can easily be attributed to the elicitation of a relaxation response.
Positive aspects: a wide variety of choice of meditation techniques; some techniques are free, but you will probably still need guidance at first
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation method that was developed in 1920s by Edmund Jacobson. It is different from meditation or autogenic training, where the passive mental attitude shifts to a relaxation response. In progressive muscle relaxation a practitioner tenses the muscles for 10 seconds and then releases them for 25 seconds. Observing the relaxation after tensing the muscles is where the relaxation response mechanism does its part. This technique is slightly different, but still holds the power of a relaxation response.
Positive aspects: different technique, which relaxes the whole body part by part
Yoga is a 5000 year old Indian discipline using meditation, body exercises, and breathing to achieve harmony with oneself and the environment. To achieve this, action, emotion and intelligence must be balanced. Through breathing techniques and exercises in different body poses, you develop awareness of the body. The exercises improve circulation in the body and general health and breathing techniques prepare the mind for meditation. Using yoga has many health benefits, including the lowering of stress. It does however take a long time to master. There are six branches of yoga
- bhakti yoga
- hatha Yoga
- jnana yoga
- karma yoga
- raja yoga
- tantra yoga
Positive aspects: a whole body technique, with meditation; guided courses