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Stress Management for Health Course

Types of Relaxation Techniques

Research by Professor Herbert Benson has shown that a number of different relaxation techniques can stimulate the relaxation response, so which type of relaxation to use is up to the individual. Try them and then use the ones that you have found to be right for you. 

Some of the most common forms of relaxation techniques include:


        Progressive Muscle Relaxation

        Passive Muscle Relaxation






        Tai Chi


       Relaxation Breathing


1.      Progressive Muscle Relaxation

In this form of relaxation you tense the muscle groups for 10 seconds and relax for 30 seconds.  Do not practice this form of relaxation if you have high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular illness without discussing this with your GP, as it can cause elevations in blood pressure.  In the resources section at the end of this session we have included a link to a free on-line course in Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

2.      Passive Muscle Relaxation

Passive muscle relaxation does not involve tensing muscles.  In this type of relaxation, you imagine that your muscles are in a relaxed state.  Research has shown that just thinking about a stressor can cause muscles to tense, and thinking about relaxing them sends a signal to the brain to relax the muscles.  This is a better form of relaxation for those with high blood pressure and/or cardiovascular illness and is often helpful for those with chronic pain problems as it aims to avoid muscle tension. 

3.      Meditation

Meditation has been used for thousands of years.  Unfortunately many people incorrectly believe that meditation is tied up with religion but the cardiologist Professor Herbert Benson and colleagues have been researching, for 30 years, a generic form that is not.  Meditation courses in the UK can cost up to 500 but you can learn the technique at an Adult Education Centre or by reading Professor Bensons book The Relaxation Response.  Detail of this book can be found in the Recommended Reading section at the end of this session.

4.      Visualisation/Imagery

Visualisation is another technique for inducing the relaxation response, it also improves physical and psychological health. It is especially useful for those with an overactive mind.  In this technique we use all our senses of smell, touch, etc to imagine a peaceful, relaxing scene.  The scene can be a tropical beach, floating on a cloud, in a beautiful garden scene, or imagining any other safe, pleasant place.  Our thoughts and images have been shown by research to have an effect on our stress levels.  For example one study revealed that watching distressing images like war films, unsurprisingly increased levels of stress in the subjects and increased the levels of stress hormones in their blood streams.  Whereas watching a relaxation video reduces stress, lowers the levels of stress hormones in the blood stream and induces relaxation.

5.      Autogenics

Autogenic relaxation is a form of self-hypnosis in which the person imagines they are calm and their limbs and body are heavy, relaxed and warm.  If you choose autogenics it would be an idea to be taught by an autogenics practitioner. 

6.      Yoga

Yoga, an Indian technique of postures to induce flexibility and relaxation breathing, has been taught for thousands of years.  It is also a useful stress management tool and helps to induce the relaxation response.  Research on yoga has shown that it helps to lower sympathetic nervous system arousal, lower blood pressure and lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, to name a few of its health benefits.  Your local Adult Education Centre will run beginners courses in Yoga should you decide to use this technique.

7.      Exercise

Aerobic exercise induces relaxation.  Research has shown that exercise reduces stress, anxiety and muscle tension as effectively as a dose of a minor tranquilliser medication.  We will be discussing exercise in more detail in the next session, Session 3. 

8.      Tai Chi

Research has shown that Tai Chi is an excellent relaxation technique and can be a very useful stress management tool. Your local Adult Education Centre will run courses in Tai Chi.  We discuss Tai Chi in more depth later in this session.

9.      Massage

Massage is another technique that helps to induce relaxation and provides us with many physiological and psychological health benefits.  Studies have shown that it helps to lower the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, circulating in our blood stream, lowers our blood pressure, helps us to sleep, reduces anxiety and depression.

10.  Relaxation Breathing

Relaxation breathing has already been discussed in session 1; it forms the basis of many different types of relaxation techniques.  It is a simple technique but its potential for lowering our stress levels should not be under estimated.  Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the relaxation response and so reduces stress.


Click here to be taken to Comparison Between the Fight/Flight Response and Relaxation Response