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Some time ago I was studying and working as a Sports Coach. One of the areas in which I became heavily involved was that of Sports Psychology. I not only studied the techniques but I applied them with great effect to the benefit of those I was coaching. Of even more importance, however, for the purpose of this article, is the fact that I used these techniques in many areas of my personal life. One that I would like to share with you today is how to use a Progressive Relaxation Technique to improve your quality of your life. Progressive Relaxation is the answer to the question "How do I Learn to Relax?" Progressive Relaxation is also known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Progressive Muscular Relaxation - these terms are interchangeable. Progressive Relaxation has many uses away from Sport - typical examples are to help you with insomnia problems, health issues and stress to name a few. Once you have learnt proper relaxation techniques, then you can move on to meditate with greater effectiveness, and also use self-hypnosis and visualisation in many areas of self-improvement. HOW DO I EARN TO RELAX? The first step is to find a comfortable position, preferably lying down. I find that lying on my back on a bed is great for this technique but you may find another place or position that suits you better. This technique could take 15-20mins of your time so make sure that your position is not going to become uncomfortable after a few minutes. Take a few nice deep breaths and then breathe out very slowly just allowing all of your cares to drift away. There are various alternatives to the next step but I plan to give you the variation that I was taught. At the end of the description I will tell you the variation that I now use. I want you to imagine that there is a ray of light shining on the toes of your left foot. With your eyes closed just feel this ray of light moving around your toes and the warmth and relaxation that is occurring. Keeping your focus there, just feel all of the tension from your toes vanishing. Spend as long as you like enjoying the feeling. Now move the ray of light to your left foot. Feel it as it circles around your foot. Let the ankle, the instep, the heel and the bottom of your foot enjoy the warmth and relaxation that is occurring. Again let all of the tension go and just enjoy the sensation for as long as you wish.

Next apply the same technique throughout your left leg. Allow the ray of light to slowly drift up and down and again let the tension all drain from your leg. Now before proceeding further imagine a phantom image of your leg and foot just floating above. From here you repeat the process for your right foot and leg. Then move to slowly cover the rest of your body....your buttocks, waist, chest, shoulders, neck, scalp, face, arms and fingers. By the time you reach the end of this procedure all of your muscles should be relaxed and you should have a phantom image of yourself floating above you. That essentially is the way that you learn to relax using progressive relaxation. A FEW POINTS TO NOTE You may wish to spend more time in particular areas of your body. If you are like me and many other people you may carry much of the tension in your neck and shoulders area and this is where I spend a large amount of time when I am relaxing. When you apply the technique to your face, make sure that your eyes are not tightly shut...just let the eyelids relax. Also slightly part your lips to let the area around your mouth relax. My experience suggests that the first time that you try this technique one of two things may happen. 1. You fall into a relaxed state very quickly sometimes to the point that you fall asleep well before completing the technique. Do not worry if this is great (especially if you have trouble normally getting to sleep). 2. You find that your concentration wanders all over the place, you cannot keep your focus and you are very restless. In my experience this is the more common scenario when people are first taught this technique. It is nothing to worry about. Being able to relax is a skill and like all skills it can be learned. To learn a skill usually requires practise and the amount of practise needed will vary with each individual. If you go through this process every day, you will improve your ability to relax within a short space of time. Once you have learnt the above skill the time needed to enter a relaxed state will decrease rapidly and you can apply it almost anywhere (at the office desk, sitting in your lounge chair, sitting in the sun etc.) I do suggest that you do not use it whilst driving a vehicle (for obvious reasons). MY VARIATION OF THE ABOVE TECHNIQUE After I had learnt this technique I thought about using different focus ideas than the 'shining light' process described above. I actually came up with the image of a pair of hands giving me a massage. This works great for me. I start by imaging that my toes are being massaged and then just follow the same thought process as already described. You may prefer to use this imagery to the shining light method. A FEW FINAL WORDS

Learning to relax is a great skill to have available and is something that you will use in your life over and over again once you have learnt and practised the methods. I have taught this technique to adults and children (especially in developing a relaxed approach to sport) and have seen many positive benefits flow from it in my own and others lives. I trust that this article will help you along the road to learning how to relax and that with a little practice relaxation will become a skill that you can apply as and when needed.

Gary Leske has been trained in Sports Psychology and has used Progressive Relaxation in his coaching methods. One of his pupils, Kathy Gould, was selected to represent Australia in the Common Games team for Table Tennis. He has also used this technique in many areas of his personal life. With his wife, he has a website focussed on home and family matters. You can visit this site at

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