Relaxation is the conditional ability of the muscles to release contractual tension. It is defined as elimination or diminution of tension. Relaxation is also said to be constructive use of tension.
Muscles which are relatively free from tension and at rest are said to be relaxed. Tension develops during contraction, and relaxation comes at rest. Relaxation follows upon activity. Even while at rest or lying down, and abstaining from activity, one may not be relaxed due to a condition of ‘over-active nerve’. This condition of restlessness has been termed by Jacobson as ‘residual tension’.
Muscles are never completely at rest. There are muscle tones, postural tone to be maintained for body’s minimum readiness. Contraction in any group of muscles is accompanied by a reciprocal relaxation of the antagonistic group.
Tension is a natural concomitant of competition. Properly channeled, it proves an asset. Excessive tension is however detrimental to health. A marked, persistent increase in muscular tension is a feature of many pathological conditions which affect the nervous system.
Edmund Jacobson has developed a procedure for nervous re-education with a view to restoring the natural ability to relax. This method, called ‘Progressive Relaxation’ Consists of a series of exercises through which the person unlearns the process of contraction in a negative direction.
The initial contracts first a muscle, then a group of muscles in order to focus attention on the tenseness of the muscles. When the subject recognizes this sensation, he is asked to relax the muscles completely. To strengthen the awareness of relaxation, the operator provides assistance to a muscle which the subject is voluntarily contracting. As the resistance is gradually and progressively eased, the subject relaxes his tension. Voluntary relaxation economise nervous energy.
These exercises are done first with the biceps, then the triceps, then with the arm flexors and arm extensors, then with the leg, trunk, and facial muscles until the subject regains the ability to relax. Singers, dancers,and athletes seem to learn more readily than other subjects because of prior familiarity with muscular tension and relaxation.
Jacobson’s techniques of relaxation are of two types –
While lying down, all voluntary muscles are gradually relaxed. The steps are (a) Support, (b) Comfort, (c) Restful atmosphere, (d) Consciousness of breathing, (e) Progressive relaxation, (f) Passive movements.
Absence of undue degree of contraction in the uninvolved muscles while involved muscles contract.
Practice is needed to master the techniques of relaxation. De Vries technique includes Jacobson technique, yogic shavasana, and kinesthesia.
Most techniques employ the principles of kinesthesis so as to establish the sensations of muscles and body awareness.
Signs of relaxation are:
(i) absence of movement or contracton, (ii) absence of sudden involuntary jerk, (iii) Sleepy eyed appearance, (iv) increasingly slow response to interruption, (v) Diminution or absence of knee jerk.
Exercises in relaxation are most helpful in many pathological conditions involving the nervous system. These are also found to be valuable for normal individuals who under strain of modern living, often find it difficult to relax.
Many aftercare patients, suffering particularly from tuberculosis, psychic disorder, chronic fatigue, alimentary disorder etc. require rehabitative measures in the form of relaxation exercises, recreative exercises, breathing exercises, postural exercises, yogic exercises, general developmental exercises etc.
Generally treatment is individual affair. When exercises are used as therapy, these are given individually at the start, then after classification for homogenity, group treatment are preferred to save time and to introduce a suggestion of competition (not very much pronounced) which induces some sort of initiative in the patient. This brings beneficial effect, the patient becomes psychologically up. At this stage monotony is broken; there occurs a change in behaviour, and recovery is hastned.