The Secret Power of Progressive Muscle Relaxation
For our students and children to meet life's challenges with pluck, verve, determination and grit, the research is in and it may surprise you: they need to learn how to relax. They need to learn how to, in Elsa's words, let it go. What can parents and teachers do do help? One thing we can teach them progressive muscle relaxation, which is also called body scan meditation. It's a proven mind-over-muscles relaxation technique to ease away stress.
Teens face a lot of stress (SATs, college prep, becoming Life Ready) and some stress is beneficial. It pushes them to do their best. But anxiety day after day can take hold of our bodies and result in chronic muscle tension. Do your students clench their teeth? Furrow their brows? Hunch their shoulders? They probably do (and so do you!) without even noticing it. The most common signs of stress — tension in the face, jaw, neck and shoulders — form the infamous Tension Triangle.
Here are a few of the body's other stress-signs to look out for in your students, from Dartmouth College's Student Wellness Center:
So what do you do about it? Progressive muscle relaxation to the rescue! Try this exercise at home or even in class, if you have the space. (But don't use the word "chillax" — apparently that slang is way out of whack.)
Lie on the floor and play one of the many free progressive muscle relaxation exercises available online. My favorite is by Jon Kabat-Zin (see video below). He guides you to imagine each part of your body, each toe, each finger, melting, releasing the tension, heavy, warm and relaxed. It works. My new favorite part of the day is when I have my eyes closed and am resting on the floor.
My son and I tried this when he was so stressed about a presentation due about the history of technology, and afterward he said he felt refreshed. "Does anyone use that language anymore?" I teased him. "They should," he said. "Because being refreshed is being awesome."
Daily progressive muscle relaxation can become a habit that's good for teens. And the parents of teens. And their teachers. Everyone can benefit from learning to let the tension seep from their bodies.
More progressive muscle relaxation resources:
*A 20-minute body scan guided meditation
*A list of 10 easy, fast-acting relaxation techniques
*A three-hour video of some extremely relaxing piano/flute music with background ocean sounds, for any purpose!