Jacobson Relaxation Techniques

Updated April 17, 2017

Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques are designed to help people cope with stress. Through a two-step process of tension and relaxation, subjects claim to be more in control of their physical reaction to stressful situations; they claim that their general muscle cramps and pains subside, and that stress and anxiety levels are diminished.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, is a technique that was developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in 1939. The PMR process aims to relax the muscles of the human body in two steps. The first step requires the subject to deliberately apply tension to specific muscle groups in the body, and in the second step, the subject releases this tension to notice a marked difference in how she feels once the tightness and pain have flowed away. The ability to notice the difference between tension and relaxation allows the subject to associate exhalation and certain words or phrases with calmness, thus allowing her to maintain more mental control over the body.

Apply Tension

Focus your mind on a particular muscle group like, for example, the muscles in your left hand. Apply tension to this muscle group for about eight seconds--in this case you would make a fist. Inhale as you apply and hold the muscle tension. Try your hardest not to simultaneously apply tension to other muscle groups like, for instance, the left shoulder muscles. It may be difficult to completely focus on one muscle group at first, but your technique improves with practice. If the appropriate amount of tension is applied, you should feel the muscle group begin to quiver or shake. It is also normal to feel some pain if the exercise is done correctly.

Releasing the Tension

After eight seconds has passed, quickly and abruptly release the tension. Exhale as the tension releases and the pain subsides. This causes you to associate exhalation with the release of tightness and pain. Many people also use a cue word or phrase as they exhale, like "relax" or "let it go" to which they learn to associate with feelings of relaxation. Remain focused on the difference you feel between the tension and release, and you should imagine the shift as a flowing process like water from a faucet. Remain relaxed for 15 seconds before repeating the process. You should feel increased or intensified sensations the second time around.


Practice PMR in a calm, quiet place, and wear loosefitting, comfortable clothing. Schedule your practice times away from meal times, and do not smoke or use intoxicants while practicing PMR. You may sit or lie down while practicing PMR, but sitting may be preferable as lying down can cause drowsiness.

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About the Author

Megan Burns is a graduate from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in political science and Spanish. She has been writing professionally since May 2009 with a Washington, D.C. entertainment blog called Brightest Young Things. Her areas of expertise include music, film and travel.