This page contains details of the Tension Awareness Movements, and provides additional information to support the guidance given on the CD and App.

 

Tension Awareness Movements

This simple relaxation technique is remarkably effective.  By using it you change muscular positions of tension to positions of ease and so trigger the body's "relaxation response" which will begin to reverse the working of the stress reflex.

The technique can be used wholly or in parts.  If you have 5  minutes to spend going slowly over all the movements and sitting for a minute in stillness at the end this will be most beneficial. Just as useful can be taking a few seconds every hour during a busy day to check forehead, shoulders, jaw, tongue or fingers and releasing any tension. These small adjustments will feed into the brain messages of relaxation and prevent a build up of the tension and of the stress reflex. 

These movements help to locate the areas of tension and release the deep, habitual patterns of holding in the body and around the breath. They also give us a moment or two of calm which, in a world of no stillness, can go a long way.

The Tension Awareness Movements work as a guided mindfulness practice, bringing awareness to what is real in the moment, to the body and to the breath. The few seconds it takes to go through all or some of the movements creates a gap, a space in which we are able to step out of the 'thought stream', the stories in our heads and in that 'gap' there is a freedom to choose whether to return to the thoughts or not.  

The movements are also beneficial if used last thing at night just before sleep.  If you go to sleep with muscles relaxed they can really rest.

Although the guidelines below start with the shoulders the movements can be done in any order. We all have our favourite area of the body for holding tension and may not even be aware of it.

The movements in detail:

  1. Firstly, make a movement which results in relaxation of the tense muscle group.
  2. Secondly, stop doing the movement and let go completely.
  3. Thirdly, feel the new position that results from releasing the tense muscle group.  Give time for the brain to register this position of ease.  For example, when the shoulders are relaxed they feel further away from the ears and the back of your neck may feel a little longer.

Shoulders

Movement:
Pull your shoulders toward your feet.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
Your shoulders further away from your ears. The back of your neck may feel a little longer.

Elbows

Movement:
With the hands resting on the thighs or if you are lying have them resting on the lower abdomen, lift the elbows up and slightly away from the rib cage.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
A softness or space between the upper arm and the ribcage and an open angle at the elbow.

Hands

Movement:
Fingers and thumbs stretch out and opened wide.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
The resulting ease in the hands as the fingers are softly stretched out and separated.

Hips

Movement:
Turn your hips outwards, take the knees a small distance away from each other.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
Your thighs have moved outward.

Lower leg 

Movement:
Stretch the front of the ankle joint by lifting the heels leaving the balls of the feet on the floor if sitting. If you are lying then move the toes away from the face until you feel the stretch.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
The feet hanging loosely out to the sides if you are lying on your back. If you are sitting, feel a loosening around the ankle joint throughout the muscles of the shins.

Abdomen

Movement:
Draw the abdomen back towards the spine.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
A softening of the abdomen and the breath may deepen as the release in the abdominal muscles allows the diaphragm to fully descend.

Breathing

Breath at a comfortable rate for you.Breathe in gently through the nose.  Expand the area in front above the waist, and between the angles of the rib cage, and raise your lower ribs upwards and outwards  Then breathe out gently through the nose, feeling your ribs fall downwards and inwards. Repeat once or twice aiming to extend the length of the out breath if this is comfortable.

Jaw

Movement:
Draw the jaw downwards whilst keeping the lips together, this is a soft and gentle movement.

Stop the movement and allow the jaw to settle back with the teeth slightly apart.
Feel:
The sensation of the teeth being apart and the jaw feeling heavy and the lips soft.

Tongue

Movement:
Press the tongue downwards in your mouth, stretching it away from the roof of the mouth.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Feel:
The tongue resting on the floor of the mouth and the whole inner mouth soft and spacious.

Eyes 

Movement:
Softly close the eyes.

Eyes remain closed.
Feel:
The space between the eyes open and soft as the forehead muscles begin to relax.

Mind

As tension is released and the relaxed state is revealed the breath will begin to slow and deepen and the busy mind will begin to quieten. Enjoy a sense of heaviness and ease throughout the body and a stilling of the chatter in the mind.

If the mind does becomes busy and chatty, problem solving and planning then take your awareness to your hands and focus on any sensations arising. Alternatively, take your awareness to the flow of air moving in the nostrils, cool air in and warmer air out.  Observe and feel this flow, feeling for the point at which the air becomes the breath. Going through the movements again, possibly more quickly may also help calm the busy the mind.

Return to full activity

Always stretch the limbs and yawn.  Do not hurry.  Sit up slowly and wait for a moment before standing up.


Feeling the difference and learning to recognise this is the most beneficial part of the technique in the long term.  With practice, the brain soon recognises and returns the body to positions of ease rather than allowing joints and muscles to remain in a tense state.


Do not use this technique when you are driving or in any situation where you need to concentrate. This technique is not a substitute for professional counseling or medical advice. 

 © Copyright: Annette Brown 2011

These Tension Awareness Movements were inspired by the groundbreaking work of Laura Mitchell in the 1960s and her subsequent writings on Reciprocal Relaxation.