Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique to learn how to control your muscle tension. It was conceived by Edmund Jacobson (Chicago, April 22, 1888 – Chicago, January 7, 1983), a physician who specialized in internal medicine and psychiatry, and dealt with what would be called psychosomatic medicine. With his research he showed the connection between an excessive muscle tension and physical and psychological disorders. His most important publications on the method are Progressive Relaxation in 1929 and You Must Relax in 1934.
Jacobson realized that muscle tension often appeared together with anxiety, stress and fear. He became aware that psychic tension led to an increase of muscle tension, that is a shortening of muscle fibers; conversely a muscle relaxation (a reduced muscle tone), entailed a decrease in the activity of the autonomic nervous system, generating a feeling of calm. So the relationship between psyche and soma was working in both directions. That mutual relationship between mental and muscular tension was the very starting point for the development of progressive relaxation.
The method is simple and effective. It’s based on a progressive training whose aim is to notice and change the tension of the various groups of muscles. Acting on these muscles through voluntary contractions that last a few seconds and the subsequent relaxation, it aims at bringing body and mind to a state of quiet. It is therefore a relaxation exercise that proceeds step by step.
Through PMR you can decrease your muscle tension and that induces a state of tranquillity (psychic relief). In turn, this feeling of calm induces a greater muscle relaxation, creating a sort of circular process.