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relaxation therapy

Alternative Names
meditation, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), mindfulness meditation, autogenic training, deep breathing, paced respiration, self-controlled relaxation therapy

Relaxation therapies differ in philosophy and method. The goal is to use the power of the mind and body to achieve a sense of relaxation. Relaxation therapies often focus on repeating a sound, word, or prayer. They may focus on a body sensation. Passive attitudes help ward off intruding thoughts. Relaxation therapies lower the metabolism and make a person feel relaxed.

What is the information for this topic?
Relaxation therapies can help treat chronic pain and insomnia. Many people also use them to lower stress and anxiety. The methods can be deep or brief. Deep methods include autogenic training, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Brief methods include paced respiration and self-control relaxation.

A deep method of relaxation focuses on relaxing both the mind and the body. Some of the types of meditation include:
  • autogenic training, in which a person imagines being in a peaceful place with pleasant body sensations. The person focuses on the body and tries to make parts of the body feel heavy, warm, or cool. Breathing is centred and the heartbeat is regulated.
  • mindfulness meditation, in which a person concentrates on body sensations and thoughts that occur in the moment. The person learns to observe sensations and thoughts without judging them.
  • yoga or walking meditation, which both come from Zen Buddhism and use physical discipline to focus the body and mind. Controlled breathing and slow, deliberate movements and postures are used.
  • progressive muscle relaxation, in which a person focuses on tensing and relaxing each of the major muscle groups
  • transcendental meditation, in which a person focuses on a sound or thought. A word, mantra, or sound is repeated many times.
  • biofeedback, in which an instrument is used to monitor certain changes in the body. These might be skin temperature or brain waves, for example. The person uses that feedback information to try to relax deeply.
The brief meditations require much less time and skill. These are often shorter forms of a deep method. Self-control meditation is a shortened form of progressive muscle relaxation. In paced respiration, the person breathes slowly and deliberately. In deep breathing, the person takes a deep breath, holds it for 3 to 5 seconds, then slowly releases it. This sequence is repeated several times. Brief methods are often used when the person faces anxiety or stress.

Relaxation therapy has been studied quite a bit for the relief of chronic pain and insomnia. Pain and insomnia affect many Australians every day. Relaxation therapy can help a person deal with these conditions without medication or surgery.

Many people prefer a method of relaxation to other treatments that may be costly, invasive, or have side effects. Relaxation therapies are taught at many hospitals and in the community. They also can be learned from books, audiotapes, and videotapes. They are not difficult to learn, and cost very little. They have no known side effects.

Author: Terry Mason, MPH
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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