Steps to Individual Progressive Relaxation

Allow yourself at least one-half hour for the session.  Select a quiet room with a couch or bed in which you will not be disturbed.  Loosen any tight-fitting clothing.  Until you learn the procedure, you will want to sit up with the book in your lap so that you  can read each step as you proceed; after you become familiar with the method, you may go through the entire session lying down on the bed or couch with your eyes closed.  The method is called “progressive” relaxation because it progressively relaxes the body in a step-by-step procedure, beginning with the hands, then moving up the arms to the head, then moving down the body to the feet.


Follow these steps below for relaxation:

Step 1: Clench your right fist and feel the tension sensations in your arm.  Clench your fist even tighter, noticing the tightness and the tension in your arm muscles.  Now, completely relax your arm, letting your fingers partially straighten out.  Observe the difference in the way your arm muscles feels.

Step 2: Repeat Step 1, only clench your fist slowly and release it slowly until it is completely relaxed.  Pay attention to the difference in the way your arm muscles feel when tensed or relaxed.

Step 3: Clench your left fist while keep the rest of your body as relaxed as possible.  Feel the tension sensations in your left arm.  Clench your fist tighter, and then completely relax.  Notice the difference in the way your arm muscle feels.

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 more slowly; then completely relax.

Step 5: Bend both arms at the elbows and tense your biceps– the muscles in the front part of your uppers arms.  Imagine that you are lifting a heavy weight toward your chin.  Notice the tension in your biceps.  Tense them tighter, and then relax them completely, letting your arms straighten out.  Feel the difference between being tense and relaxed.

Step 6: Repeat Step 5 more slowly.

Step 7: Straighten both of your arms, pressing the backs of your hands down against your legs until you feel the tension in the backs of your arms.  Now relax and notice the difference.

Step 8: Let your arms completely relax.  Lay them at your sides.  Search for any tension sensations in your arms and relax them for about a minute.  Just let your arms go completely limp.  Imagine that the tension is flowing down your arms and out your fingers, leaving your arms completely inactive, limp, and heavy.

Step 9: Wrinkle your forehead by raising up your eyebrows as high as you can.  Feel the tension throughout your forehead.  Then relax your forehead; notice how it smoothes out.

Step 10: Frown hard, feeling the tension between your eyes.  Now, relax and feel the difference.

Step 11: Close your eyelids tightly.  Notice the tension all over your eyelids and around your eyes.  Relax, but keep your eyes closed.

Step 12: Firmly clench your teeth, closing your jaws tightly.  Feel the tension sensations in your lower jaw and temples.  Now, relax and let your lips part; let your jaw hang loose.

Step 13: Press your head back, feeling the tension in your neck.  Turn your head left, then right, noticing the different tensions in the sides of your neck.  Bend your chin toward your chest.  Now let your neck completely relax.

Step 14: Shrug your shoulders.  Feel the tension in the tops of your shoulders and the sides of your neck.  Relax and notice the difference in the way the muscles feel.

Step 15: Let your shoulders go completely relaxed, and then your arms, neck, jaws, eyelids, and forehead. Imagine the tensions from these areas flowing out, down your arms and out your fingers.  Be limp and loose.  Notice the absence of tension sensations in these areas.

Step 16: Inhale deeply, and notice the tension in your chest.  Hold your breath and observe the sensations of tightness in your muscles.  Now relax completely by exhaling.

Step 17: Breathe slowly and regularly, letting the air go out of your lungs when you relax.  Do this while relaxing the rest of your body.

Step 18: Tighten your stomach muscles and keep them tight.  Notice the tension in your abdomen.  Relax and notice the difference.

Step 19: Arch your back, feeling the tension sensations on both sides of your spine.  Relax everywhere expect this part of your spine.  Now relax your body as well.

Step 20: Breath regularly while relaxing your arms, head, neck, upper and lower torso.  Relax any area in which you feel tension sensations.  Let these areas be loose and inactive.

Step 21: Straighten your legs and press your heels down hard against the floor or bed.  Feel the tension in your thighs and buttocks.  Now relax and feel the difference.

Step 22: Keep your legs straight and point your toes by moving your feet away from your face.  Notice the tension in the calves of your legs.  Relax, letting your feet move back to a normal position.

Step 23: Move your feet in the opposite direction, back toward your face.  Notice the tension in your shins at the front of your lower legs.  Relax the muscles in your shins and calves, letting your feet be limp and loose.

Step 24: Relax your feet, legs, lower torso, upper torso, arms and hands, neck, jaws, and face.  Relax everywhere, feeling no tension.  Breathe slowly and deeply, imagining all tensions to flow down your body and out your toes, leaving your body inactive, limp, and heavy.  Remain totally inactive for a few minutes.


Any of the steps in this sequence can be isolated and more fully explored and repeated in further sessions.  Doing this will enable you to detect very small tensions in your muscles.  The more aware you become of your muscle sensations, the easier it will be for your to relax.  Your training might be helped by putting the steps of the procedure in tape so that you can follow them without interruption.  You can also extend the training by following the steps while sitting or standing.  This will help you gain further control over your ability to relax while in public.

Deep muscle relaxation is something you learn how to do by practicing.  The progressive relaxation procedure outlined here, with practice, will increase your awareness of and your ability to control nervous tension.  But even the first time you try it, you will feel more relaxed.