If you are feeling stressed—with aches and pains and muscle tension all over—I recommend a guided muscle relaxation technique. This easy-to-do stress- and anxiety-reducing sequence systematically relaxes the whole body. It also helps to ease the tense muscles and nerve pain of patients with diseases such as fibromyalgia and cancer.

This technique doesn’t take a lot of practice—in fact, you can do it right the very first time and feel results immediately. Many muscle-relaxation exercises involve contracting and relaxing muscles throughout the body.

But the following technique, which was adapted by yoga therapist Carol Krucoff of Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, from her book Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain, is an awareness approach to stress relief that works well at relaxing every muscle group. People who do this sequence feel as though they are floating when they are finished. You’ll feel that way, too!

THE SETUP

Do the entire sequence once daily, especially during stressful times or right before going to sleep (if you have trouble falling asleep). Choose a quiet, relaxing place at home. For 10 to 15 minutes, lie on your back on the floor, in bed or in a reclining chair. When first learning the sequence, you may want to do it with a family member or friend, since it’s more relaxing to have someone tell you which part of the body to relax. Or you can record the instructions and play them back. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly and easily through your nose. Then breathe out again, relaxing and starting to release any stress or negative emotions as you exhale. Sink deeper into the floor or chair, feeling it support your head, back, buttocks and legs.

LET’S BEGIN…

Practice each step for three to five full breaths before moving to the next one.

  • Bring your attention to your face and its muscles. Relax your face so that it becomes soft.
  • Relax your eyes so they rest back in their sockets.
  • Bring your focus to your jaw. Allow the hinge of your jaw to release, so your teeth part and your lips barely touch. Soften the inside of your mouth.
  • Let your head become heavy, releasing its weight into the support of the floor or chair. Then allow your neck to relax.
  • Soften your throat…then bring your focus to your shoulders. Freed of the weight of your head, your shoulders can rest back into the floor, bed or chair.
  • Bring your attention to your arms, hands and fingers. Release any tension.
  • Focus on your internal organs, including your heart. Let go of any emotional tension that you are holding on to, such as fear or anger.
  • Bring your attention to your hips, buttocks and groin, releasing any tension there. Then do the same with your legs, feet and toes.
  • Next, focus on all the bones in your body. Let them become heavy. Relax your muscles, so that they soften away from your bones.
  • Feel your whole body relax. Stay like this for five minutes, focusing on your breath.

When you’re ready to rise, gently wiggle your fingers and toes and stretch anywhere that feels comfortable. Roll onto your side and rest there for a minute, allowing your nervous system to readjust before standing.

WHAT GUIDED MUSCLE RELAXATION CAN DO

While this type of sequence may look like you aren’t doing much, the opposite is in fact true. You are focusing on completely relaxing and releasing all tension from the body. This type of relaxation has many health benefits—such as lowering blood pressure, relieving anxiety and enhancing sleep.