Methods to relax body and mind

Those who manage to calm the body can also cope better with psychological stress. In some cases, thousands of years old methods can help – but so can newer methods, the effectiveness of which has been scientifically proven.

Well equipped against stress are all those people who regularly relax physically, can mentally switch off and above all are able to attentively perceive their own needs. And all these abilities, stress researchers agree, can be systematically practiced and intensified.

Because like body and spirit on

If the body reacts to stress by, for example, accelerating the heartbeat or developing negative feelings, both also react when the organism experiences relaxation:

Blood pressure drops – and positive thoughts come into being. Relaxation should therefore be as much a part of our everyday lives as tension. Many people find it helpful to be passive, to let themselves be calmed by massages, for example.

But when the stress increases, such simple means of relaxation are no longer sufficient. Then it is necessary to actively seek, practise and intensify rest, just as if one strengthens a muscle through strength exercises. There are many different methods for this.

However, not all of them have been scientifically investigated, and not every variant of a particular technique is as effective as another. In the guidelines of the statutory health insurance companies, three forms of exercises are listed that have a proven relaxing effect and are therefore paid for by the insurance companies:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation,
  • Autogenous training,
  • Meditation.

If you train these exercises regularly, you will be able to reduce arousal even in difficult everyday situations or avoid stress that can no longer be shaken off.


“There is probably no more general remedy than rest,” wrote the US physiologist Edmund Jacobson, who first published his method of voluntary muscle relaxation in 1929. This involves tensioning certain muscle groups one after the other, in each case for one to two minutes. Afterwards, one tries to loosen the muscle group for three to four minutes at the most.

In this way, all parts of the body are gradually tensioned and relaxed, from the limbs to the trunk to the head. Today, mostly simplified variants of Jacobson’s program are taught. But it is also their aim to be able to perceive more and more precisely the degree of tension in individual muscles.

Researchers have not yet been able to prove whether muscle relaxation actually influences the activity of the central nervous system, as Jacobson assumed. But studies show that those who train active muscle relaxation increase their well-being in the long term, are less sensitive to pain and react more calmly in stressful situations.


In the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz observed that people can put themselves (autogenously) into a kind of trance without external intervention – into a state in which they experience deep peace, feel warmth in their limbs and then feel refreshed. He then developed exercises with which everyone can specifically influence their heart rate, regulate their breath and create a feeling of warmth.

The pattern is always the same: The practitioner repeats sentences in his mind that refer to a calming sensation, such as “The right arm is heavy” or “The heart beats quietly”.

Almost anyone can learn to actually cause such physical changes. After just a few weeks of regular training, the self-suggestions produce the desired effect in most people: rest, warmth, relaxation. Also in stressful situations experienced ones can become often more easily quiet again – and thus sovereign


In almost all religions there are techniques which are supposed to help to gain self-knowledge, to expand consciousness and to explore higher worlds, thus to find “enlightenment”. Relaxation is a prerequisite for these meditative procedures. Therefore, some of the methods, detached from their spiritual meaning, have also proven themselves.

The Indian Hatha-Yoga and the Chinese practices Tai-Chi and Qigong are recognized by the health insurance companies. These three techniques combine mental immersion with movement, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes dynamic, sometimes concentrated. Studies show: The procedures can contribute to alleviate stress reactions in the long run and to reduce the body into a healthy balance of tension and relaxation.

All these methods help to experience a feeling of control. They create an awareness that one is not helplessly exposed to everyday stress and discomfort.

For it is necessary to feel one’s own body more sensitively than in the usual perception, to observe thoughts, to sense feelings. And at the same time to pay attention to the interplay between the environment and the inside. So that we do not only feel a vague discomfort, but can recognize more clearly what exactly causes pain or nausea, irritability or tiredness.

The Concept of Mindfulness

Only in the past decades has a term been established for this ability: Mindfulness. It is, so to speak, a natural remedy for people to avoid or alleviate stress. It helps to recognize early signs of stress and not to ignore them.

Scientists are therefore intensively investigating how mindfulness can be strengthened in a targeted and long-term manner. A method developed by US scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn has proven to be particularly effective: mindfulness-based stress reduction. In the USA, this standardized procedure is taught in hundreds of clinics and health centers, and it is also widely offered in Germany.

Participants learn in courses of several weeks elements of traditional Meditation techniques to notice for example their breath consciously to observe their thoughts with equanimity or to trace attentively an aroma. Religious references are expressly avoided. In the center stands to practice actively the attentiveness, the relaxation to deepen. In this way, studies have shown that our resistance to excessive stress can be strengthened immediately.