Autogenic training is a relaxation method that you usually perform while sitting or lying down. This anti-stress technique is a so-called autosuggestive procedure, which is related to hypnosis. You learn not only to relax your body, but also to let go of your thoughts.
What is autogenic training?
The relaxation method was invented by the physician Johannes Heinrich Schultz and further developed over time. The modern form of autogenic training consists of an introduction, the six actual exercises and the conclusion. In developing the individual steps, J. H. Schultz was guided by typical perceptions that occur during hypnosis.
The introduction prepares you for relaxation: You say to yourself in your mind that you are completely calm and relaxed. In the following first exercise you imagine that one part of your body becomes heavy after the other. The order is fixed. You usually start with the left arm – left-handed people can start with the right arm.
In the second exercise, the focus is on the perception of warmth, after which you concentrate on your breathing. Then you focus on the “solar plexus” – a warm sensation in the abdomen. The fifth step is to mentally suggest to yourself that your heart is beating calmly and regularly, before reflecting on the coolness of your forehead. Finally, suggest to yourself once again that you now feel completely calm and relaxed.
Can the relaxation method help against stress?
Psychologists and psychotherapists use autogenic training for various psychological complaints. However, you can also perform the relaxation method if you are completely healthy. In Germany, it is recognized as a preventive measure and is intended to prevent the development of stress and the problems associated with it. Along with Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) according to Edmund Jacobsen, it is one of the most commonly used relaxation techniques.
The anti-stress technique can produce a variety of effects in your body. For example, while performing it, blood pressure typically decreases and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated more. This part of the nervous system is responsible for relaxation and regeneration. However, the parasympathetic nervous system also includes digestion – so don’t be alarmed if your stomach gurgles or you hear other digestive sounds during the exercises.
Autogenic training is not meant to be done once. Instead, you do it every day. Some recommendations even say that you should do the anti-stress technique three times a day when you have the opportunity. If you want to use the relaxation method for yourself, you should not wait until you notice psychological symptoms and use it only when needed, but make the exercises a routine part of your everyday life.
For whom is the relaxation method (not) suitable?
Children as young as six can use the relaxation method. For them, the suggestive formulas are appropriately designed for children and can be embedded in a story, similar to a fantasy journey. Although many people can benefit from the anti-stress technique, unfortunately it is not equally suitable for everyone.
The relaxation technique can stimulate stomach acid production and is therefore not useful for gastrointestinal complaints. In addition, relaxation can cause blood pressure to drop, which is a potential problem if you are prone to circulatory problems or are pregnant.
It is often not recommended to use autogenic training if someone is suffering from acute psychosis with delusions and hallucinations. If you have a phobia of blood or wounds, this form of relaxation may also be contraindicated. The anti-stress technique also tends not to be used in cases of epilepsy and diseases of the respiratory tract – however, with all contraindications it always depends on the individual case.
How is Autogenic Training performed?
Once you have mastered the individual formulas, you can apply the relaxation method on your own. There are CDs, MP3s, videos and other media on which a voice guides you through the individual exercise steps. However, you are not necessarily dependent on such instructions. In fact, the method is intended for you to follow the order of the individual steps, but to gradually create your own formulations for them and thus individualize the anti-stress technique for yourself.
During the execution you sit in the posture of a cab driver, i.e. slightly bent forward. Your feet are flat on the floor and your knees form a right angle. They do not touch each other, but stand apart so that you can comfortably rest your forearms on your thighs. The feet are accordingly placed at some distance from each other. If you don’t like this position, you can also do Autogenic Training lying down or leaning back in a relaxation chair. Your eyes are either closed or you let your gaze rest on a point in front of you.
It is important that you take enough time to apply the anti-stress technique, as time pressure is counterproductive. You can also do the Autogenic Training before going to bed, if you do not find enough rest for it during the day. In addition, you should wear comfortable clothing.
The upper level for advanced students
The upper level of Autogenic Training consists of exercises for advanced students who have mastered the so-called basic level. There are different variants, each with different goals. The original upper level by J. H. Schultz is very much based on psychoanalysis, but in many aspects it also resembles well-known imagination techniques. In the first exercise of the Upper Level, for example, you imagine a color, and in the second step you make an object appear in your mind’s eye. The sixth and last exercise, however, is to formulate questions to your own unconscious in order to find answers to them.
In contrast to the basic level, the advanced level is no longer a pure relaxation method, but pursues more advanced goals. The analytical upper level tries to understand the psyche as such and partly to solve unconscious conflicts. If you are primarily interested in acquiring an anti-stress technique, you can also limit yourself to the basic level.