I wrote a blog post back in July about different types of relaxation techniques I use when teaching and now I’d like to go further into one of my favourite relaxation techniques – Autogenic Relaxation. I use this technique a lot, both when I’m teaching and in my own practice at home, and with practice it can be a really helpful method for enabling feelings of relaxation. It’s a good technique for beginners to learn, especially those with very ‘chatty’ minds who find it difficult to concentrate without their mind wandering. It’s also useful for the handful of the population who have a condition called aphantasia. People with aphantasia can find it hard or even impossible to visualise images in their minds eye. Consequently this means that they may find relaxation techniques that rely on guided imagery frustrating and also ineffective.
What is Autogenic Relaxation?
Autogenic relaxation has been around for a long time. It was developed over 80 years ago by a psychiatrist called Johannes Heinrich Schultz. When treating his patients using hypnosis he noticed that they entered a state of relaxation in which their bodies felt heavy and warm. He went on to use his technique of autogenic relaxation in order to create this relaxed state in his patients, allowing them to be able to experience reduced levels of tension and anxiety. Autogenic relaxation is a technique that allows your body to feel relaxed via the process of making a series of statements to yourself in your own mind. The words warm and heavy are repeated frequently, linking them to various parts of the body. For example, by saying in your mind, ‘My legs feel heavy’ several times, with practice, that feeling of heaviness can be elicited. To start with it’s easier to listen to a recording of guided autogenic relaxation, or have a friend or family member read one out to you. Then once you have become familiar with the type of language used and the process involved you can begin to say your own script to yourself in your head, maybe memorising a simple script such as the one outlined below. The advantage of memorising a simple autogenic relaxation script is that you can access it any time, so if you find yourself in a slightly stressful situation, then you can run through your script in your head and help yourself to relax. This obviously takes some practice but it can be a really useful tool for stressful situations.
The Benefits of Autogenic Relaxation
There’s some scientific evidence that this kind of relaxation technique can help one deal with feelings of anxiety, as well as the physical symptoms which can arise from feeling anxious such as headaches, digestive problems, a racing heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. A few NHS websites recommend Autogenic Relaxation as a relaxation technique and Guy and St. Thomas’s have a useful information leaflet about using this technique with cardiovascular patients. Sport psychologists use Autogenic Relaxation with athletes as a Mental Relaxation Technique. It can be paired with Visual Imagery, whereby once the participant is relaxed using Autogenic Relaxation, a positive mental image is described in which the participant perfectly executes their sporting performance.
Autogenic relaxation phrases
During the process of Autogenic Relaxation self-statements such as ‘My right arm feels heavy’ are repeated so that the participant’s right arm does indeed start to feel heavy. Other verbs used are warm, calm and relaxed, again directed at specific parts of the body. Once well practiced in the technique the person practicing should quickly experience feelings of heaviness, warmth and calm throughout the entire body which in turn should result in a feeling of relaxation.
Preparing to Relax
Wear clothing that is warm and comfortable.
Find a place that is warm and quiet. Switch off your phone
Remove your shoes.
Come in to a comfortable position, either sitting on a chair or lying on the floor. Make sure your head is well supported and your back is comfortable.
Have your arms and hands loose either resting on your body or by your sides. Make sure you are not clenching your fists.
Have your legs uncrossed and if laying down, let your feet fall out to the side so your legs are relaxed.
Relax your face, including your forehead, cheeks and jaw.
Close your eyes if that feels comfortable, if not gaze softly at a point in front of you.
Simple Relaxation Script for Autogenic Relaxation
You can learn this simple script to use for relaxation, either as part of your yoga practice or as a stand-alone relaxation. It’s also useful to use if you are having trouble sleeping. Repeat the sequence in your head and let your mind rest on each part of your body as you say them. You may find it useful to run through the script a few times from start to finish.
My feet and legs feel heavy
My back and shoulders feel heavy
My hands and arms feel heavy
My face and head feel heavy
My feet and legs feel warm
My back and shoulders feel warm
My hands and arms feel warm
My face and head feel warm
My feet and legs feel heavy and warm
My back and shoulders feel heavy and warm
My hands and arms feel heavy and warm
My face and head feel heavy and warm
Extended Relaxation Script for Autogenic Relaxation
This is a longer script which you can use by recording your voice or having a friend or family member read the script to you. Leave enough of a pause at the fullstop marks so that you can repeat the preceding statement to yourself, in your head.
Begin by coming into a position in which you can rest undisturbed either sitting in a chair or lying on a bed or on the floor. Make sure you are warm and comfortable and, when you ready, let your awareness rest on your body, noticing any areas of tightness, especially in your abdomen, shoulders, neck and face. Allow any tightness to release, letting your hands and arms soften, your legs and feet relax. Now listen to the following instructions and in your mind, repeat each one slowly to yourself.
My right foot feels heavy…my right leg feels heavy…my left foot feels heavy…my left leg feels heavy…Both feet, both legs, feeling heavy, grounding down.
My lower back feels heavy…my upper back feels heavy…my neck feels heavy…my shoulders feel heavy. My whole back, my neck and my shoulders feeling heavy, grounding down.
My right hand feels heavy…my right arm feels heavy…my left hand feels heavy…my left arm feels heavy… Both hands, both arms, feeling heavy, grounding down.
The top of my head feels heavy…the back of my head feels heavy…my face, my jaw and my forehead feel heavy…The whole of my head, the whole of my face, feeling heavy, grounding down.
My right foot feels warm…my right leg feels warm…my left foot feels warm…my left leg feels warm. Both feet, both legs, feeling warm and settled.
My lower back feels warm …my upper back feels warm …my neck feels warm …my shoulders feel warm…My whole back, my neck and my shoulders feeling warm and settled.
My right hand feels warm …my right arm feels warm …my left hand feels warm …my left arm feels warm… Both hands, both arms, feeling warm and settled.
The top of my head feels warm…the back of my head feels warm…my face, my jaw and my forehead feel warm…The whole of my head, the whole of my face, feeling warm and settled.
My right foot feels relaxed…my right leg feels relaxed …my left foot feels relaxed …my left leg feels relaxed. Both feet, both legs, feeling relaxed and comfortable.
My lower back feels relaxed …my upper back feels relaxed …my neck feels relaxed …my shoulders feel relaxed. My whole back, my neck and my shoulders feeling relaxed and comfortable.
My right hand feels relaxed …my right arm feels relaxed …my left hand feels relaxed …my left arm feels relaxed. Both hands, both arms, feeling relaxed and comfortable.
The top of my head feels relaxed..the back of my head feels relaxed..my face, my jaw and my forehead feel relaxed…The whole of my head, the whole of my face, feeling relaxed and comfortable.
My right foot feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my right leg feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my left foot feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my left leg feels heavy, warm and relaxed… Both feet, both legs, feeling heavy, warm and relaxed.
My lower back feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my upper back feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my neck feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my shoulders feel heavy, warm and relaxed…My whole back, my neck and my shoulders feeling heavy, warm and relaxed.
My right hand feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my right arm feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my left hand feels heavy, warm and relaxed …my left arm feels heavy, warm and relaxed… Both hands, both arms, feeling heavy, warm and relaxed
The top of my head feels heavy, warm and relaxed…the back of my head feels heavy, warm and relaxed…my face, my jaw and my forehead feel heavy, warm and relaxed…The whole of my head, the whole of my face, feeling heavy, warm and relaxed.
Rest here now for as long as you need, then, when you are ready gently move, gently stretch and open your eyes feeling renewed and refreshed.
Insight Timer App – A free app, with some good pre-recorded autogenic relaxation scripts.
Good Medicine – Background information about autogenic relaxation.
30 Scripts for Relaxation, Imagery & Inner Healing, Volume 2 by Julie T Lusk – Includes some lovely relaxation scripts based on autogenic relaxation