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audio meditations

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Relieve stress, anxiety, and muscle tension with this simple, yet powerful whole-body relaxation exercise.

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation HelpGuide 15:15

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When you're experiencing anxiety, stress, or worry, one of the ways your body responds is by tightening up. Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique that helps you release the tension you're holding in your body and feel more relaxed and calm. The technique is simple: working through the body, tense one muscle group at a time and then release the tension and notice the contrasting feeling of relaxation. Not only does progressive muscle relaxation help relieve anxiety in the moment, but with regular practice, it can also lower your overall tension and stress levels.

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Transcript

Hello, my name is Chris Saranchock. Welcome to HelpGuide’s progressive muscle relaxation.

In this exercise, we’re going to work our way through every muscle group in the body. Tensing each area for about 5 seconds, and then letting go and feeling the muscles relax.

As you practice, it’s important to really feel the tension in each muscle group and hold it tightly. But don’t overdo it. You shouldn’t be straining, cramping, or feeling pain.

If you have injuries or pain in any area, feel free to skip that step.

Let’s start by finding a comfortable position, either lying down on a mat, your bed, maybe a couch… or sitting upright with a straight posture, arms resting to your sides.

Now take a few deep breaths. Inhaling slowly… and then exhaling slowly…

Just keep breathing…

(pause for breathing)

As you continue to breathe, pay attention to how your chest and belly moves. How it rises as you inhale… and falls as you exhale…

On the next exhale, imagine any tension that you’re holding being released and flowing out of your body. Take another deep inhale… And exhale… Feel your body already relaxing… already letting go.

Right hand and forearm

Now, turn your attention to your right hand. Slowly clench your fist and bend it back at the wrist, feeling the tension in your fist and up your forearm.

Hold . . .

And release…

Feel the looseness in your hand and forearm. Breathe deeply, noticing the contrast with the tension. Feeling the relaxation…

Right upper arm

Next, move up to your right upper arm. Bend your right arm and flex like you’re making a muscle. Tense your bicep as tight as you can…

Hold…

And release…

Dropping your arm back down… letting it fall limp… Breathing deeply as you enjoy the feeling of relaxation.

Left hand and forearm

Now turn your attention over to your other side to your left hand. Slowly clench your fist… bending it back at the wrist, feeling the tension in your fingers, wrist, and forearm.

Hold . . .

And release…

Feel your hand and forearm relax. Inhale deeply… and exhale even more deeply… noticing the relaxation.

Left upper arm

Take another deep breath, and then focus on your left upper arm. Bend your arm up and flex your bicep like you’re making a muscle. Tense your arm as tight as you can…

Hold…

And release…

Dropping your left arm back down to your side… Enjoying the way your muscles have softened and the feeling of relaxation. Breathing in… and out… Releasing even more tension on the outbreath.

Forehead

Next, focus on your forehead. Wrinkling your forehead, then raising your eyebrows as high as they’ll go…

Hold… Really feeling that tension in your forehead and scalp…

And release…

Feeling your forehead soften… your eyebrows relax… all of the tension falling away…

Eyes and cheeks

Now scrunch up your face. Squeeze your eyes closed… Tense your cheeks…

Hold…

And release…

Take a moment to focus on how you feel. Your face soft and relaxed… Noticing the difference between the tensed muscles and the relaxed muscles.

Mouth and jaw

Next, focus on your mouth and jaw. Open your mouth as wide as you can, as if you’re yawning… Feeling the tension in your jaw…

Hold…

And release…

Relaxing your jaw… your mouth gently dropping open… Letting the tension dissolve… Becoming aware of the difference between a tense jaw and a relaxed jaw…

Neck

Now turn your attention to your neck. If you’re sitting upright, let your head fall back, so your eyes are looking up to the ceiling. Then gently tense the neck muscles… being careful not to strain…

Hold…

And release…

Bringing your head back down… maybe dropping your chin to your chest if you’re sitting… or feeling your neck sink into whatever surface you’re on if you’re lying down.

Shoulders

Next, focus on your shoulders. Lift your shoulders up towards your ears… clenching as you lift…

Hold…

And release…

Dropping your shoulders back down. Breathing in… and out… Noticing the changes you feel as your shoulders soften.

Chest

Now focus on your chest. Take a deep breath, filling your lungs as full as you can. Tense your rib cage and upper back, holding that inbreath…

Continue to hold…

And release…

Feel the relaxation… the limpness of your upper body… Visualize all your tension and stress flowing out of your chest… exiting with each exhale.

Stomach

Next, focus on your stomach. Tighten your stomach muscles… doing your best to keep other muscle groups relaxed… All the tension concentrated in your midsection…

Hold…

And release…

Feel the way your stomach softens and sinks with relaxation. Continue to breathe, taking deep belly breaths. Keeping your stomach loose… Inhaling… and exhaling… Feeling the relaxation… Deeper and deeper…

Back

Now turn your attention to your back. Arch your back away from the chair or surface you’re on… Squeezing your shoulder blades… tensing your lower back…

Hold…

And release…

Feel the tension drain away… Your muscles getting loose… Your back sinking deeper into the surface of your chair or mat…

Hips and Buttocks

Next, focus on your hips and buttocks. Squeeze your glutes together… tightly…

Hold…

And release…

Feel the relaxation… Your muscles spreading out… All the tension gone…

Right thigh

Now focus on your right thigh. Tighten the muscles in your upper leg. Lifting the knee slightly if it helps…

Hold…

And release…

Feel the difference as your thigh muscles relax… Getting long and loose…

Left thigh

Now focus on your left thigh. Tighten the muscles… Feeling the tension from hip to knee…

Hold…

And release…

Relaxing on the exhale… your thigh muscles soft and loose…

Right calf

Now turn your attention to your right calf. Slowly squeeze those calf muscles…

Hold . . .

And release…

Focusing on the way your right calf feels… Totally relaxed… The tension gone…

Left calf

Next, focus on your left calf… squeezing the calf muscles tightly…

Hold . . .

And release…

Letting the tension go… Enjoying the deep feeling of relaxation…

Right foot

Now focus on your right foot. Slowly curl your toes downward… tensing your foot tightly…

Hold…

And release…

Feeling the relaxation… Letting your foot sink deeper into the floor…

Left foot

Now focus on your left foot. Tensing it tightly… curling your toes…

Hold…

And release…

All the tension flowing away… Your foot soft and relaxed… sinking deeper into the floor…

Whole body

Keep breathing…

Now imagine a wave of total relaxation slowly flowing through your whole body… from the top of your head all the way down to the bottoms of your feet…

Keep breathing in… and out…

Letting go of every last bit of tension… Feeling the warmth and heaviness of your relaxed body. Falling even deeper into relaxation… Your muscles long and loose… Your mind calm and rested…

Continue to breathe in and out… Your belly rising and falling… Enjoying the feel of the calming breath… In… and out…

Then, when you’re ready… gently open your eyes… Slowly come back to the room… Continuing to breathe…

Remaining seated or lying down… Allowing yourself time to come out of the state of deep relaxation… Letting your body wake up…

When you feel fully alert, you can get up and end the exercise. Going on with your day… enjoying a renewed sense of relaxation and calm.

Last updated: October 24, 2022