A Practical Introduction to Autogenic Training
Various developments of Autogenic training, like Sophrology, are still used in yoga poses hospital and psychiatric settings and by many athletes. Besides the many exercises, the quality of a relaxation endeavor depends on the way the therapist integrates what is happening. A few introductory exercises to this method permits the reader to personally become aware of what is referred to as a body-mind experience.
Type of exercise: my body is heavy.
1. Preliminaries. The individual is in yoga poses a pleasant space, the light is subdued, the temperature is pleasant. He is lying down comfortably. He closes his eyes with the intention to relax.
2. General instructions. The individual repeats a phrase with his internal voice in yoga poses a calm and regular rhythm, which may become hypnotic. He observes what is happening in yoga poses his inner space such as he experiences it. He does not try to willfully apply the instruction that he pronounces over and over again internally. Typically, the first phrase is I am totally calm. The individual repeats this, whether he is calm or not, without having to become calm. He contents himself to observe the sensations, feelings, images, thoughts, and sensations that arise in yoga poses his interior space while he repeats this phrase.
3. Specific instructions. in yoga poses this exercise, the central variable is the sensation of heaviness. in yoga poses other words, the sought-after goal is essentially muscular relaxation. The individual runs through all of the parts of the body while saying slowly for about twenty times my head is heavy, then my jaw is heavy, then my arms are heavy, and so on. It is often recommended to journey down the arms before the torso. At the end of about twelve minutes or less, the individual ends this central part of the exercise by repeating my body is heavy.
4. Final phase. This phase is important, because when it is skipped a person may feel more anxious than before. The individual does nothing for a few minutes. His attention is floating and has no precise goals. After about thirty breaths, the individual moves his fingers and his toes, slowly opens his eyes, and slowly gets up. If his head turns when he stands, it is often a sign that he arose too quickly.
These exercises are particularly effective when they are practiced several times per week for at least fifteen minutes. The regulatory systems of the organism are especially sensitive to habitual practices. After a while, it suffices to think of the exercise for a certain relaxation to come about.
In these exercises, a parallelistic vision of the organism allows one to enter into the spirit of the exercise. The individual does not try to make his arm heavy while he repeats the phrase my arm is heavy. For example, the person can feel that the more he repeats the phrase, the more his arms feel light, or that it is his feet that become heavy or warm. Sometimes his attention is mostly drawn to a sensation of anxiety or pleasure.
What I have described is a typical exercise. Schultz developed many variations. Each one focuses on particular dynamics of the organism (muscles, the cardiovascular system, etc.). The aim is to help an individual’s consciousness become familiar with and aware of the nonconscious connections between his thoughts and his physiology. The limitation of these exercises is a bit like that of all psychotherapeutic methods: they are useful only to those who like them in yoga poses the same way that it is impossible to hypnotize some people, some people are deeply irritated by such immobility. It is because people are so different that so many methods exist. It is rare that an individual who does not favor relaxation can be forced to appreciate it. On the other hand, it does happen that years later the same individual will value this kind of exercise. If the subject is resistant, it can be dangerous to insist, for sometimes hyperactivity is a defense against depression or even an incipient psychosis.
Vignette on the fear of immobility: in yoga poses a training group, a therapist asks a woman to remain lying down for ten minutes without doing anything. in yoga poses spite of the patient’s resistance, the therapist insists; the patient ends up doing what she is told. She then falls into a deep depression. As a result, this woman lost her job, was unable to find employment in yoga poses her field, and had to change profession (she became a yoga teacher). This crisis lasted three years due to a ten-minute exercise. This anecdote may seem unbelievable, but it is sadly true. Human frailties are sometimes unforeseeable.
This method can sometimes become very useful for persons who suffer from anxieties with recurrent thoughts. Repeating thoughts on parts of the body may protect the person from the usual obsessional themes.