The relaxation technique we developed while working with our patients is taken largely from a program devised by Dr. Edmond Jacobson, who calls his technique “progressive relaxation.” In practice, we combine this technique with the mental imagery process we describe later in this chapter. However, we have detailed the relaxation process separately here so that you will see its value for use anytime. We recommend to our patients that they complete the combined relaxation/mental imagery activity three times a day for ten to fifteen minutes each time. Most people feel relaxed the first time they use this technique. But since relaxation is something that can be learned and improved upon, you will find that you’ll enter into increasingly relaxed states as the process is repeated.
To make the relaxation/mental imagery process easier to learn, we provide our patients with a cassette tape of instructions. You may also find it helpful to have a friend read the following instructions to you or to make a tape recording of them. Allow plenty of time for completing each step in a comfortable, relaxed manner.
1. Go to a quiet room with soft lighting. Shut the door and sit in a comfortable chair, feet flat on the floor, eyes closed.
2. Become aware of your breathing.
3. Take in a few deep breaths, and as you let out each breath, mentally say the word, “relax.”
4. Concentrate on your face and feel any tension ifl your face and eyes. Make a mental picture of this tension—it might be a rope tied in a knot or a clenched fist—and then mentally picture it relaxing and becoming comfortable, like a limp rubber band.
5. Experience your face and eyes becoming relaxed. As they relax, feel a wave of relaxation spreading through your body.
6. Tense your eyes and face, squeezing tightly, then relax them and feel the relaxation spreading through’ out your body.
7. Apply the previous instructions to other parts of your body. Move slowly down your body—jaw, neck, shoulders, back, upper and lower arms, hands, chest, abdomen, thighs, calves, ankles, feet, toes— until every part of your body is relaxed. For each part of the body, mentally picture the tension, then picture the tension melting away; tense the area, then relax it.
8. When you have relaxed each part of the body, rest quietly in this comfortable state for two to five minutes.
9. Then let the muscles in your eyelids lighten up, become ready to open your eyes, and become aware of the room.
10. Now let your eyes open, and you are ready to go on with your usual activities.
If you have not already done so, we encourage you to g through this process before reading on. You can find the relaxation it produces pleasurable and energizing.
People sometimes experience difficulty picturing the mental image or keeping their minds from wandering the first few times they try the process. There’s no need to feel discouraged. It’s very natural and criticizing yourself will only increase your tension. At the end of this chapter, when you are more familiar with relaxation and visualization techniques, we will deal with a few of the common problems patients have with these procedures and suggest how to overcome them.
The next section provides instructions for moving directly from the relaxation process into the mental imagery process. Although the relaxation technique is valuable by itself, as we said earlier, we use it primarily as a prelude to mental imagery, because the physical relaxation reduces tension that could distract from concentrating on the mental imagery. The relaxation technique is also a prelude to mental imagery in another sense: Learning to use mental guidance to produce physical relaxation should help strengthen your belief that you can use your mind in support of your body.
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