Relaxation techniques include behavioral therapeutic approaches that differ widely in philosophy, methodology, and practice. The primary goal is usually nondirected relaxation. Most techniques share the components of repetitive focus (on a word, sound, prayer phrase, body sensation, or muscular activity), using a passive attitude towards intruding thoughts, and return to the focus.
Deep and brief methods exist. Deep methods include autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and meditation (although meditation is sometimes distinguished from relaxation based on the state of "thoughtless awareness" that is said to occur during meditation). Brief methods include self-control relaxation, paced respiration, and deep breathing. Brief methods generally require less time and often represent an abbreviated form of a deep method. Other relaxation techniques include guided imagery, deep breathing, breathing control, passive muscle relaxation, and refocusing. Applied relaxation involves imagination of relaxing situations with the intention of inducing muscular and mental relaxation. Another popular technique is progressive relaxation, in which the individual is taught what it feels like to relax by comparing relaxation with muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is said to require several months of practice at least three times per week in order to be able to evoke the relaxation response within seconds. Relaxation technique instruction is available in many hospitals, in the community, in books, or on audiotapes or videotapes.
The term "relaxation response" was coined by Harvard professor and cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD in the early 1970s to describe the physiologic reaction that is the opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response is proposed to involve decreased stimulation of the nervous system, as well as increased parasympathetic activity (urination, digestion, and other activities that occur when the body is at rest) characterized by lowered heartbeat, muscle, and skeletal function, and altered interactions between the nervous and endocrine systems.
Relaxation techniques may be taught by complementary practitioners, physicians, psychotherapists, hypnotherapists, nurses, clinical psychologists, or sports therapists. There is no formal credentialing for relaxation therapies.
Clinical studies suggest that relaxation techniques may be beneficial in patients with anxiety, although these approaches do not appear to be as effective as psychotherapy. For conditions with a strong psychosomatic element, relaxation may be beneficial, although it is not clear if the effects are long-term. Relaxation techniques may be used for stress management using self-regulation (self-control). There is not enough evidence to form firm conclusions about the effectiveness of relaxation for any condition. However, relaxation has been studied with respect to depression, pain, behavior, blood pressure lowering, etc. It has also been studied in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Relaxation techniques are sometimes used by people with insomnia or other sleep disorders.
Abbreviated progressive muscle relaxation therapy, APRT, autogenic training, behavioral techniques, Benson's "relaxation response", biofeedback-assisted relaxation, breath therapy, chosen relaxation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), conscious relaxation, functional relaxation, guided relaxation, hypnotic music, imagery, J. H. Schultz, Jacobson's progressive, Laura Mitchell approach, meditation passive relaxation, mind-body medicine, muscle relaxation techniques, musical relaxation therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, progressive relaxation, psychomotor therapy programs, Qi gong, relaxation coping, relaxation exercises, self-hypnosis, Soong (Mandarin), visualization.