April 19, 2011

Progressive muscle relaxation routine enhances my 3-4 a.m. meditation hour

For years, I've seen recommendations about using progressive muscle relaxation to dissipate stress, but I never found a way of incorporating this into my daily routines. Now I have. 

What I'm going to describe works for me, but that doesn't mean it necessarily will work for you.  The key, I've found, is to look at what's been tried by others but then find an adaptation that works for me. Here's my version of progressive muscle relaxation.

As I've mentioned before, the previously dreaded awakening at  3-4 a.m. with the accompanying difficulty getting back to sleep now is one of my favorite times of day (almost up there with my coffee hour after my afternoon nap!),  I meditate (and daydream) for about an hour after my middle-of-the-night bathroom visit and then easily return to the bed and sleep.

I've now inserted a muscle relaxation routine in the middle of that meditation hour. Since this exercise is preceded and followed by  deep breathing meditation, I incorporate the breath exercises into the muscle relaxation to retain the mellow mood that helps me get back to sleep.

I don't try to get this aging body into the lotus position for meditation. I just sit in a straight-backed chair that I keep in my bedroom and sit on one slim pillow pad while resting my arms on another pad in my lap. I then position my hands in the "secret handshake." See: http://parkinsonsand5htp.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-does-old-man-with-parkinsons.html

For each of the steps listed below, I do the exercise by tightening the body part and holding it for a count of 8 inhales-exhales, then I relax the muscles slowly.   Between each step, I do five breathing-ins/breathing-outs. (I mix the breathing exercises in with the muscle relaxation exercises out of concern that doing the muscle relaxation exercises nonstop might be too stimulative and might make it difficult to get back to sleep.)

  1. Raise the front of the foot while keeping the heel on the floor; squeeze the toes downward and relax.
  2. Same  raising of the front of the foot but this time widening the toes to separate them and relax.
  3. Tighten and relax the calve muscles
  4. Tighten and relax the thigh and butt muscles.
  5. Pull in and tighten the stomach muscles and relax.
  6. Tighten and relax the chest and shoulder muscles
  7. Arch the back; hold; relax
  8. Make a tight fist and relax.
  9. Spread the fingers wide apart and then relax.
  10. Tense the forearm and upper arm and   then relax.
  11. Tense the neck while pulling chin down toward the chest; relax.
  12. Tighten the face muscles by grimacing; relax
  13. Stretch the face muscles by opening the mouth and eyes wide; relax.


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