Surrounding/environment should be conducive to relaxation. Turn the lights down or off, turn off stereos and phones. However, if you have previously used soft, gentle music (instrumental is best) include this now. Find one room where you can consistently practice relaxing and one particular chair or couch. You may use the floor or bed if you are using this technique to aid sleep. You are beginning to "get in the mood" to relax.
Body posture is adjusted as if you were to hold yourself perfectly still for 10 minutes and right now was your last chance to move. In a chair it is often best to keep your legs uncrossed, arms at your sides (preferably off the arms of your chair so that your shoulders are fully relaxed) and eyes closed or fixed on one particular spot slightly above eye level. Next, mentally scan your body from head to toe for any muscle tension or uneasiness. If you become aware of any tension move that muscle group and let gravity do the rest, now feeling more relaxed and at ease.
Breathing is slow, full, deep yet effortless. Try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe in, start from the lower portion of your lungs (your "stomach") then up into your chest, all the way up into your shoulders, and raise your shoulders slightly. Exhale through your mouth letting your shoulders down, chest relaxing and "stomach" emptying (tightening). As you breathe, begin to notice that as you inhale you have a sensation of coolness and as you exhale you sense warmth and a release of tension and stress. While inhaling mentally state "cool and cleaning", and when exhaling state "warm stress leaving." Now add to your increasing self-awareness the quiet peace between your exhalation and your next breath in. Spend 3-5 minutes relaxing your body and breathing in this way.
Thoughts need to be in line with your increasing sense of relaxation. Therefore give yourself permission to relax. Repeat to yourself "there is no place I have to go now, nothing I need to do except fully experience the sense of peace and relaxation I am fully entitled to." Sometimes unwanted or tension inducing thoughts may come into your awareness "I can't, I should, I shouldn't, or this is stupid, or not working." If they do close your eyes if you haven't already and imagine these worries are written on a chalkboard across the back of our eyelids. As they appear just wipe them away as you would clean a blackboard of old, outdated or no longer needed information. If they persist, vague yet partially visible on your mental blackboard, then clean them off with a damp cloth and refocus your attention on the increasing feeling of total relaxation with every cycle of breathing in then out. With each exhale allow and feel our muscles relaxing down more and more comfortably. Gradually gaining more and more control over your body and your increasing ability to relax. Your attention is becoming focused more and more on the sound and temperature of our breathing and the increased feeling of total relaxation and comfort.
Muscles are focused on once more with either of two approaches. If you are an "active" person begin tensing then relaxing each muscle group in your body. Begin by tensing and releasing the muscles in your forehead (frowning). Now clench and unclench your teeth. Next, slowly ensure your neck, then add your shoulders, raise your arms and tense your biceps finally clenching your fists. Now unclench and relax your fists, relax and lower your arms, now relaxing your shoulders and finally you’re unclenching your teeth and let the frown (or squint) fade away replaced by a nice smile. Now tighten your stomach, and your rear end, your thighs, now calves and curl up your toes to tighten the muscles in your feet. Very good, now release the tension in your feet, calves, thighs, rear end, and stomach. Take a full deep breath in and out relaxing your whole body. Now you can put it all together and start with either your feet or your forehead and tighten in-sequence all your muscles as if you were pulling a string tight that connected your feet through your spine to the top of your head. Start tensing after you exhale so you can slowly inhale as you gradually tense one muscle after another. Now as you release the tension also slowly exhale. You will feel more relaxed, muscles (your whole body) resting comfortably continuing to take slow, full breaths. As you went through your body you may have noticed that a particular muscle group tends to hold tension for you. Often you will notice this same muscle group is the one that now feels tingly or even slightly uncomfortable. This may mean this area has been holding stress feelings for so long normal is tense or tight. With your increased self-control over your body and greater ability to tense and relax each muscle group individually, now allow that area some additional time, tensing and relaxing, breathing in then out. If you are a more "easy going" person or have a painful condition in your body then you can also focus on each muscle group, but without the tension skills described above. It may be more helpful for you to gradually gain increased self/muscle control by "allowing" each muscle to "relax more and more deeply." Imagine, for instance you are in a warm bubble bath (better yet go get in one) and feel each muscle group from your forehead to your feet slowly uncoiling, relaxing more and more in the warm gentle water. Continue to breath slowly and fully, relaxing and unwinding more and more.
Imagery is often a very helpful next step and I gave you an example by imagining you were in a warm bath in the section above. The key or skill necessary here is to use all of your senses in the scene or picture you choose. For the active person you may see yourself on a hike climbing higher and higher, with problems and anxieties falling far behind you. On your climb you are rising above the problems of every day, gaining a broader perspective on them, or truly allowing them to fall behind while you focus ahead. You can feel the increasing power in your legs and the excitement of your climb. You can smell the pine trees, see the soft clouds in the beautiful blue sky, taste the perspiration as you taste the growing sense of freedom with every step, hear the sound of the triumphant eagles cry! Let yourself more and more fully actually be there. Use any scene or actual experience that helps you feel more relaxed, at peace and unrushed. The easy-going relaxer can see themselves drifting quietly and slowly on a raft in the jade/blue lagoon of their own beautiful, private, tropical island. You can hear the light breeze rustle the palm trees, smell the salt air, taste your favorite tropical drink, and feel the gentle swaying of your raft slowly rocking you to a deeper and deeper sense of relaxation and feel the warm sun slowly melting away muscle tension as if each area was a knotted rope slowly uncoiling relaxed and free. Again, use any imaginary scene or actual experience so you can fully participate and use all of your senses to gain the most satisfying relaxation experience. This is an extremely powerful and effective skill for many people; however, some of you may not be strong visualizers. Evan so, you may find one of your senses can help you more fully experience the scene you are focusing on, like the smell of pine trees during your favorite childhood family vacation.