Relaxation Technique Based Upon Body Awareness
Autogenic training is a century-old European method for
achieving relaxation based upon passive concentration and body
awareness of specific sensations. Its effectiveness has been
shown in relieving many stress-related disorders including
anxiety, tension, insomnia, and examination stress. Persons with
chronic medical conditions ranging from migraine, colitis,
irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, to
thyroid disease and many other conditions have also been shown
to benefit from the practice of autogenic training.
A German psychiatrist and neurologist, Johannes Schulz, was the
first to describe this technique.
In the early 20th century, Dr. Schulz was greatly interested in
the work of Prof. Oskar Vogt, a medical researcher who used
auto-hypnosis to achieve relaxation and reduction of tension in
his patients. Schulz tried to achieve a similar outcome without
employing hypnosis by instructing patients to focus on specific
body sensations. In 1912 he published a work entitled "Autogenic
Organ Exercises" in which he described his work in this area.
His "Autogenic Therapy", published in 1932, is the definitive
account of autogenic training and includes descriptions of the
six autogenic states used in autogenic therapy today.
As with other meditative or relaxation techniques, effective
practice of autogenic training results in a reduction in heart
rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and tension, all of
which can have long-ranging health benefits. It can be practiced
anywhere at any time. Autogenic training does not imply or
involve any religious, cultural, or spiritual practices. Popular
in Europe, this technique has been gaining increased acceptance
in the USA and in other countries. Autogenic training has become
an accepted adjuvant therapy to the extent that it may be
covered by health insurance in Germany and is available through
the British NHS in some areas.
In simple terms, autogenic training is designed to reverse the
"fight or flight" stress response with its release of
epinephrine and norepinephrine in the body. Since it is slightly
more complex to learn than some meditative techniques, most
people find that taking a course is the easiest way to learn the
technique. Schulz described six autogenic "formulas" or "states"
1. focus on heaviness in the arms and legs
2. focus on warmth in the arms and legs
3. focus on warmth and heaviness in the heart area
4. focus on breathing
5. focus on warmth in the abdomen
6. focus on coolness in the forehead
The first two formulas are often broken down to focus first upon
the dominant arm, followed by the other arm or the legs. For
each formula one repeats a phrase, or formula, silently with
closed eyes such as "my arm feels heavy." Breathing is paced
slowly and the phrase is repeated five to seven times before
opening the eyes and stretching. A recommended practice session
is three "sets" of five to seven repetitions with breaks, for a
total time of about ten minutes. Practicing the technique twice
daily is also recommended. Experts recommend trying to focus
upon being an "alert but passive observer" of body sensations.
Each individual formula should be practiced for about a week, or
until a satisfactory result is achieved. One then moves on to
the next formula and practices it together with the previous
ones. Once the technique has been mastered in practice sessions,
it can be applied at will in situations of stress or difficulty.
Persons with serious medical conditions should
seek the advice of their physician before beginning a course in
autogenic training. Autogenic training is not recommended for
persons with severe psychological disturbances. One drawback of
the technique is the level of time and patience required to
fully master the technique. Persons who are highly motivated and
show high levels of self-control are best able to learn
autogenic training. Volumes of medical literature are available
on the use of autogenic training in treating both mental and
The table below lists some of the conditions
which have been improved through use of autogenic training as
part of a therapeutic regimen.
Conditions with Reported Improvement by
irritable bowel syndrome