How to Practice Autogenic Training for Relaxation

Getty / Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury
Autogenic training can help you to relax in a variety of situations.. Getty / Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury

Autogenic training is a type of relaxation technique that can be used to help reduce anxiety, including that experienced as part of social anxiety disorder (SAD).

History of Autogenic Training

Autogenic training is a relaxation technique first introduced by German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz in 1932.

Schultz noticed that individuals undergoing hypnosis entered a relaxed state in which they experienced feelings of heaviness and warmth, and he sought to recreate that state in people to reduce tension and anxiety.

How Does Autogenic Training Work?

It is believed that through a series of self-statements about heaviness and warmth in different parts of the body, a positive effect is induced on the autonomic nervous system.

Research Evidence for Autogenic Training

Although less well-known than other relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, a meta-analytic study in 2008 found efficacy of autogenic training in the treatment of anxiety.

Autogenic Training and SAD

In terms of social anxiety disorder (SAD), autogenic training may aid in relaxation and help to reduce symptoms of anxiety when combined with other forms of treatment.

Just as with other forms of relaxation training, autogenic training may help you to feel calm and relaxed in social and performance situations. If you practice often enough, then the simple words "I am completely calm" may be enough to induce a state of relaxation in the moment.

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.
  1. Quietly say to yourself, "I am completely calm."
  2. 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."
  3. 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."
  4. 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."
  5. 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."
  6. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, "My heartbeat is calm and regular." Then quietly say to yourself, "I am completely calm."
  7. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, "My breathing is calm and regular." Then quietly say to yourself, "I am completely calm."
  8. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, "My abdomen is warm." Then quietly say to yourself, "I am completely calm."
  1. Quietly and slowly repeat to yourself six times, "My forehead is pleasantly cool." Then quietly say to yourself, "I am completely calm."
  2. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation, warmth and heaviness. When you are ready, quietly say to yourself, "Arms firm, breathe deeply, eyes open."

In addition to following these instructions, you may consider using a voice recording, such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University with directions on practicing autogenic training. Use of an audio recording will allow you to fully relax and concentrate on the technique.

Before You Start

For those who suffer with medical conditions or significant psychiatric conditions, consult with your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise.

Be sure to stop autogenic training and consult your doctor if you experience feelings of extreme anxiety or restlessness, or any other adverse effects during or after practicing autogenic training.

Sources:

McMaster University. Autogenic Training. Accessed June 23, 2015.

Manzoni GM, Pagnini F, Castelnuovo G, Molinari E. Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2008;8:41. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-41.

University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Services. Autogenic Training. Accessed June 23, 2015.

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