Taking time to relax is necessary to offset the harmful effects of recurring stress on the body. Through the use of relaxation techniques, one can begin to reverse this cumulative, detrimental process, and engage the body's tremendous possibility for self-healing.

Progressive muscle relaxation, also known as a guided body scan is a very valuable stress reduction technique. A guided body scan -- which seeks to find and release muscular tensions -- supports deep relaxation, as most of us carry needless tightness in various muscles. The location of recurring muscle tension can vary from person to person.

In progressive muscle relaxation, you shift your attention into different parts of your body and let go of any felt sensations of tightness or discomfort. With consistent practice, you can become more aware of your tension and discover ways to release it. Letting go of physical tension promotes soothing and a calm, quiet mind.

You can augment the relaxation by first tensing each muscle group, maintaining it for an instant, and then releasing it into deeper relaxation. That initial increase of momentary tension assists you in becoming more aware of how the muscle feels when it is tense, in addition to making it possible to relax more deeply.

Try a "mini-body scan" now as you are reading this.

Start with deep, restful breathing. Then when you are ready, move your attention in sequence through your body, starting at your head and slowly moving down to your toes. Within each segment of your body, pause a moment and scan for tightness, tension, or chronic pain. Begin to allow yourself to let go of any discomfort or tightness that you become aware of.

You can also imagine sending the warmth of your inhalation into the discomfort or soreness, and then, with the exhalation, release and melt the tension.

Physical relaxation -- the release of muscular tightness -- in the body encourages the Relaxation Response. Your heart rate, breathing and metabolism slow down and your blood pressure lowers. Your mind becomes peaceful and relaxed, free of anxiety -- and is no longer sending the signals that release the stress hormones to inundate your body.

As you are learning this method, or if you want a more structured practice it is frequently advantageous to work with a teacher or to use a guided meditation CD. This will help you to remain attentive to your breath and to notice those segments of your body which might otherwise remain unnoticed in the body scan.

We inadvertently elicit the Stress Response in our bodies through maintaining recurring muscle tension; through anxiety, worry, and catastrophic thinking; through lack of exercise and good sleep; through a frantic, fast-paced stressful daily life. The Stress Response leads to a compromised immune system, greater susceptibility to disease, and to more rapid aging.

The antidote to the Stress Response is the Relaxation Response, which undoes the damaging effects that result from the body being chronically "revved-up", as if to fight or flee from peril.

Take a little time, today, to engage in progressive muscle relaxation. Twenty minutes of Relaxation Response once or twice per day can reverse the effects of recurring stress. Give yourself this gift -- you'll be glad you did.

Author's Bio: 

Sandi Anders, M.Div., R.Y.T. http://www.SandiAnders.com offers her relaxation CD Alchemy of Peace and Love at http://www.Imagery4Relaxation.com, and recommends Stress Management and Relaxation resources at http://www.Books4SelfHelp.com/stress-management.htm.
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