“When the mind is well,
it usually follows that the body is well.”
Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this relaxation technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress. You repeat words or suggestions in your mind to relax and reduce muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting and then focus on controlled, relaxing breathing, slowing your heart rate, or feeling different physical sensations, such as relaxing each arm or leg one by one.
A brief history of Autogenic Training
Autogenic Training is relatively new to this country. It was first developed by the German neurologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz and Wolfgang Luthe in the early to mid 20th century. British physician Malcolm Carruthers brought AT to this country in 1984. A few years later in 1999 the British Autogenic Society was formed with its
How does Autogenic Training work
AT involves learning a set of easy mental exercises using designated phrases that are repeated as silent thoughts while sitting or lying in a specific, supported and neutral posture. It allows the mind and body to switch off the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ stress response, and instead promotes rest, recuperation and recovery. Autogenic means self-generating, – you are, in effect, treating yourself. With the support and guidance of a therapist, you gradually learn to trust your own process of self-healing.
Stress is usually thought of as a negative and destructive force in our lives, which can eventually lead to our physical or mental breakdown. The word is itself ambiguous as it is neither bad nor good. We need it for our normal daily activity, but if stress or the stress response becomes prolonged, real problems can occur. We all react to stress in different ways. Some people have mental, physical, emotional or behavioural symptoms or a combination of these.
What is stress
What happens in our bodies when we get stressed?
Fight/flight mode – stress
Sympathetic nervous system dominance
Heart rate increases
Mouth dries up
Jaws and teeth are clenched
Distresses facial complexion
Breathing becomes shallow and fast
Blood vessels close
Increased white blood cells
Blood sugar increases
Blood pressure increases
Stomach butterflies/digestive system suspended
If you stay in this state for a prolonged period it will lead to exhaustion and depression.
Rest and digest – relaxed
Parasympathetic nervous system dominance
Heart rates decreases
Breathing deepens and slows
Salivation returns to normal
Facial muscles relax
Pupils return to normal
Blood vessels return to normal
Blood pressure reduces
Blood sugar reduces
Production of white blood cells inhibited
Sweat glands close
Digestion returns to normal
In our society we tend to favor our left brain hemisphere which is a place of logical thinking and working with information, while the right brain hemisphere, which is a place of emotions, pictures and imaginations, is often neglected. When you practice AT, the two hemispheres work together, moving towards balance.
How does Autogenic Training help?
Autogenic Training is not offering a cure, but it will help alleviate stress, and help foster a better frame of mind to aid those individuals to cope better. It does this in three ways by focusing on the homeostasis of the autonomic system, classically conditioning the individual to respond to the exercises, and realise a cognitive shift in perception.
Autogenic Training focuses on homeostasis of the autonomic nervous system. The term homeostasis is the body’s self-regulation of certain biological functions, the process that keeps certain bodily variables within a fixed range.
The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary muscles such as the heart, lungs and digestion. This system is split into two, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, which although they work together have opposing functions. The sympathetic expands energy and the parasympathetic conserve energy. The sympathetic system prepares the body for flight or fight response or response to stress by increasing the heart and breathing rates, and decreases digestive activity. The parasympathetic acts to reverse the flight or fight response by decreasing heart, and breathing rates, and increasing digestive rate. Autogenic Training actively keys into the body’s need for homeostasis between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.
How to practice autogenic training
1. Find a quiet place free from distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair. Loosen any tight clothing and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair.
2. Take a few slow even breaths. If you have not already, spend a few minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing.
3.Quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
4. Focus attention on your arms. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My arms are very heavy.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
5. Refocus attention on your arms. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My arms are very warm.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
6. Focus attention on your legs. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My legs are very heavy.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
7. Refocus attention on your legs. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My legs are very warm.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
8. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My heartbeat is calm and regular.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
9. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My breathing is calm and regular.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
10. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My abdomen is warm.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
11. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, “My forehead is pleasantly cool.” Then quietly say to yourself, “I am completely calm.”
12. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation, warmth and heaviness. When you are ready, quietly say to yourself, “Arms firm, breathe deeply,
The Theory Behind Autogenics
During autogenic relaxation you will relax your muscles deeply. By relaxing your muscles, your mind automatically follows. And you find yourself experiencing deep relaxation.
You can follow relaxation with imagery – visualization relaxation – this enhances the profound feeling of relaxation and peace.
The technique is similar to biofeedback and progressive relaxation. You simply focus on the sensations of warmth and heaviness.
Thoughts of warmth produce dilation of blood vessels and thoughts of heaviness induce muscle relaxation. Sounds simple, right? Let’s go and learn the steps to this technique.
Autogenic Relaxation in Simple Steps
To practice this relaxation technique you need to find a quiet place. While seated in a comfortable position you repeat a particular autogenic phrase to yourself (see the list bellow).
At the beginning, you do this for a few minutes at a time, several times a day. Gradually, you increase the time until you practice 20 minutes twice a day.
There are six parts to autogenic training, each focuses on a different part of the body and different sensation:
heaviness in the extremities – “my arms and legs are heavy”
warmth in the extremities – “my arms and legs are warm”
heartbeat – “my heart is calm and regular”
breathing – “my breathing is calm and regular”
warmth in the solar plexus – “my solar plexus is warm”
forehead – “my forehead is cool”
When you say autogenic phrases to yourself, imagine feeling the heaviness, the warmth, and the relaxation in your body. Allow the sensations of deep relaxation come to you, rather that actively strive for these sensations. You can design your own routine, here is a sample autogenic relaxation:
I am beginning to feel quiet now…
I am beginning to feel relaxed…
my feet, my ankles, my knees, and my hips feel heavy
my hands feel heavy
my arms and shoulders feel heavy
my neck and my jaw feel heavy
my feet, my ankles, my knees, and my hips feel warm
my hands feel warm
my arms and shoulders feel warm
my neck and my jaw feel warm
my heart is calm and regular
my breathing is calm and regular
my solar plexus is warm
my forehead feels cool
my whole body feels quiet, comfortable, and deeply relaxed
Once your body is quiet and relaxed, visualize an image that you find relaxing. It may be a sandy beach with waves lapping on the shore, a cool stream of a waterfall, or a soft, fluffy cloud lazily drifting across the sky.
Autogenic relaxation takes time to master. It may take few weeks to achieve the sensations of heaviness and warmth, but the results are worth it. Be patient.
Autogenic Relaxation is one of many techniques to help you reduce anxiety, achieve deep relaxation, and relieve stress.
Who would benefit from Autogenic Training?
Individuals who would benefit from Autogenic Training are those who suffer from depression/anxiety/stress/
Those individuals that engage with Autogenic Training will find the feelings of anxiety/stress reduced. Physically they will become more relaxed, physical signs of tension will disappear and health is likely to improve. Overall the individual will be happier, more fulfilled and be able to cope with life with ease, rather than struggling with it. Of course the individual will still face life’s traumas, but with Autogenic Training their ability to cope with these and move on will be greatly increased.
How will Autogenic Training benefits
Helps you switch from stress to relaxation
Increases confidence and self-esteem
Significantly improves sleep quality
Increases concentration and focus
Reduces or eliminates anxiety
Provides a tool for self-empowerment and feeling more in control
Gives you health and emotional balance
Promotes personal growth
Conditions that Autogenic Training can treat—
AT has been clinically applied to a wide range of disorders such as
*Panic attacks/ Anxiety
*High blood pressure
*Irritable bowel / colitis
*Pain/ Muscular pain
*Fatigue/ low energy
The major influence AT can have on any of the above symptoms is reduction of attendant anxiety. The increased confidence that clients develop from knowing they can help themselves can have a significant impact on their state of health.
What evidence of Autogenic Training is effectiveness?
Autogenic Training is a recognised technique used within the National Health Service at the University Collage London Hospital and has been taught at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital for some years. Although Autogenic Training is frequently described as a standard relaxation/stress management technique in Clinical and Health Psychology texts, reviews of Autogenic Training outcome are scarce. Most are anecdotal and based on uncontrolled case studies.
In an audit taken from The Royal Homeopathic Hospital and from a GP’s general practice, of individuals taught the British Autogenic Society’s standard formula suggests the benefits of this technique were:
Of the 196 patients who took part
73% reported that their condition had improved.
Sixty-eight of those individuals, who had been diagnosed as suffering from stress/tension/anxiety,
88% said that their condition had improved
In those suffering from depression,
58% had found an improvement with their symptoms.