Progressive Relaxation: “Mother Knows Best”

This is a short story serving as an introduction to Progressive Relaxation (also referred to as Progressive Muscle Relaxation) and a reminder of the adage:  “Mother knows best.” 

For many years, my mother has encouraged me to adopt a peculiar exercise.  It can be done most any time and has improved her health significantly.  Her biological age seems to have reversed over the years. She seems to have more energy, a slimmer physique and a vitality in her eyes. However, as with most children perhaps, her words went in one ear of mine and out the other.

While seated or standing, she would demonstrate the exercise by tensing and relaxing the body repeatedly.  The former involved clenching her hands into fists, tightening her abs and holding her breath for several seconds.  The latter involved letting go of the tension, relaxing the body and returning to breathing.  Essentially, alternating between tension and relaxation.  That’s it. 

The exercise can also be done, for example, while walking, lying in bed or waiting in line.  Or as part of a warm-up routine or precursor to meditation.  It apparently has helped keep her warm during the cold Canadian winters, maintain her posture and inject energy to her body and mind especially when lethargy would otherwise creep in.

Well, as life would have it, I came across three techniques which advocate the same basic principle of tension and relaxation. They are the Wim Hof deep breathing technique [KendoNotes_WimHof], tightercise (part of a recent health program called Fastercise) and Progressive Relaxation by Edmund Jacobson [Canada PMR] [Jacobson_Relaxation] [Davis_Relaxation, Chap. 5] – as pointed out to me by, respectively, a chiropractor friend, a colleague at work and the author Jon Christianson. Serendipity.

The work of Jacobson is particularly fundamental and data-driven.  For me,  most fascinating is his observation of the experience of “no thought” with complete relaxation of the muscles around the eyes and mouth as described in [Christianson Jacobson] [KendoNotes WhisperedAh] and more recently in [KendoNotes NoThought].

It is also interesting to notice the parallels with kiri-kaeshi.  A round of multiple sayumen strikes punctuated with a men-uchi is performed in one breathe and repeated with a deep exhalation and inhalation in between.  This practice not only warms up the body but also seems to relax the mind which would be consistent with Progressive Relaxation.

To close, this experience reminds me of my wife. She would from time to time listen to and adopt the same advice of friends or YouTube gurus that I had expressed months or years before. Karma 😉


[Canada_PMR] Anxiety Canada, “How to do Progressive Muscle Relaxation,” (PDF, 4 pages).

[Christianson_Jacobson] Jon Christianson, “On Keeping the Eyes Still,”

[Davis_Relaxation] Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, Matthew McKay, The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 5th ed., New Harbinger Publications, 2000.

[Jacobson_Relaxation] Edmund Jacobson, Progressive Relaxation:  A Physiological and Clinical Investigation of Muscular States and Their Significance in Psychology and Medical Practice, 2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, 1938.

[KendoNotes_NoThought] “The Experience of ‘No Thought’ – Progressive Relaxation and Edmund Jacobson,”, Dec. 28, 2020.

[KendoNotes_WhisperedAh] “The ‘Whispered Ah’ – for Calmness, Muscle Relaxation and the Posture,”, Dec. 4, 2019.

[KendoNotes_WimHof] “Deep Belly Breathing and the Wim Hof Method,”

Copyright 2020

3 thoughts on “Progressive Relaxation: “Mother Knows Best”

  1. michael050162 December 28, 2020 / 8:18 am

    Hi Young,

    a great article about your mother who seems to be as wise as my mother was who I didn’t listen to. 😉

    I suppose that she does even a bit more than only tension/relaxation.

    I think she is playing with the stop reflex ( and maybe also the start reflex) as Thomas Hanna calls it.

    May I recommend you his book “Somatics”?

    I think you will love it if you don’t know it yet.

    From Berlin,


    _____ Michael Schürks |

    Von unterwegs.



    • kiai December 28, 2020 / 8:26 am

      Hi Michael, Thank you for your comment and recommendation. I am unaware of this stop / start reflex and unaware of Thomas Hanna’s book “Somatics”. I look forward to checking it out. 🙂


    • kiai December 30, 2020 / 4:40 am

      Hi Michael, I read Thomas Hanna’s “What is Somatics” in the Journal of Behavioral Optometry, 1991. Wow! Mind-blowing to see medicine from the first-person view as he describes – as opposed to the conventional third-person view. And to see the parallels of that with Douglas Harding’s writings and observations 🙂 Can’t wait for Hanna’s book to arrive. Thank you!


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