Focus on Meditation, Progresssive Relaxation

This is week 4 of a progressive blog. Join us each week as we create our meditation practice.
          Imagine a first year Marine, at attention, every bit of his body holding the pose, muscles so tight even a bullet would bounce off them.  That was me all the time, even with perscription muscle relaxers for my Multiple Sclerosis.  What the heck was wrong?  Turns out I was stuck in fight or flight mode, prepared to protect myself from all forms of pain, physical and emotional. 

          Personally for me, understanding Progressive Relaxation had the most immediate impact of the meditative steps.   I had a hard go of it.  As soon as I got a group of muscles to relax I would realize that the ones I had worked on before were tight again .   I remember a family member saying, “Why are you working so hard at that?”  My answer, “because I can’t do it!”  It was worth the hard work.  After achieving a firm foundation in Progressive Muscle Relaxation I was able to get off the prescribed medication without any increase in symptoms or pain. 


          To start Progressive Muscle Relaxation, get into a comfortable position. Close your eyes, legs uncrossed, your hands resting comfortably open at your side, on abdomen, or thighs.  Begin your Diaphragmatic Breath (if you still need more practice with the breath you can begin by noticing your breathing, as your breathing becomes more relaxed and restful you are ready to move on). 
        You will now take your awareness up to your face. 


·       Tense the muscles in the face by making a sour face, like you just ate a lemon, holding that face for the four count inhalation and releasing on the eight count exhalation, encouraging the face to relax and hold no expression at all, or perhaps a very gentle smile.  Repeat the process two more times, each time releasing more and more of the facial expression till there is no expression at all .   The jaw is loose, the eyes  and ears are relaxed, and the breath is smooth and deep.


·       Move your awareness to the shoulder and neck area. Notice the muscles in the shoulder and neck area. Tense the muscles in the neck by pressing the shoulders towards the ears, holding for the inhalation, releasing with the exhalation. With your awareness in the neck and shoulders repeat the process. Repeat until you reach the level of relaxation you desire.


·        Bring your awareness to the muscles in the arms. Tense the muscles in both of your arms by curling the arms up towards your biceps and holding them as if you are lifting weights and holding it to your chest, holding for the inhalation, releasing on the exhalation. With your awareness in the arm, repeat until these muscles are relaxed.


·        Bring your awareness to the muscles in the hands. Tense the muscles in the hands by clenching it into a tight fist, holding for the inhalation, releasing on the exhalation. Repeat until relaxed.


·        Notice the muscles in the upper back, around the shoulder blades. Now, notice the muscles in the abdomen and low back.  With each cycle, you notice it becomes easier and easier to release and relax each muscle group.


·        For the feet, tense the muscles by pointing the toes towards the knees, and on the second cycle away from the knees, holding the foot position for inhalation, releasing on the exhalation.


·        Finally take note of the entire body, where are you holding tension.  For each space that still has tension practice the contract and release until there is a feeling of relaxation in the entire body.


        With this new information what are you supposed to do this week as your practice?  You are to continue working with your 1-3 minutes three times a day.   You are working on your breath and your relaxation during your allotted times.  Because each breath takes about 10 seconds and a single muscle group takes about 30 seconds, you will not be able to fit the entire Progressive Relaxation Process into your current meditative space.  This is okay.  Do your best to relax your entire body while using your relaxed breath. 
        You will also want to again use your creative ways to fit in the full body Progressive Relaxation Process.  It is very simple to incorporate the process into your bedtime routine.  You are laying there anyway, adding in a little relaxation should come naturally 😉

Questions and Answers:
What is this weeks practice?  Diaphragmatic Breath 1-3 minutes 3 times a day while relaxing the body.  Also, doing a complete body Progressive Relaxation at bed time or a time of your choosing.

How do I fit this into my day?  I started to notice that I was tight all the time so I worked on relaxing the muscles that I was not using when ever I was aware of them.  Walking through the grocery store I would work on my shoulders and arms, watching TV or reading with the kids I would relax legs, bum, what ever was tense.  While stopped at red lights I worked on my facial muscles and neck and shoulders.  Just like with my minute of meditative space I created a way to fit it in.


What if I can’t relax?  For anyone with chronic pain or high stress it may be impossible to reach a state of complete relaxation your first time.  Each muscle group may tense back if it does not have your focus on it to relax.  In these situations it takes about three weeks to gain the real benefit of Progressive Relaxation.  You use what ever time you have allotted to do your best.   


How many more foundation pieces are there?  You have one more foundation piece to practice before you get to the fun of meditation.  That piece is calming the Monkey Mind.

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