Despite not being a new discovery, practicing relaxation exercises has become an increasingly popular technique for reducing stress over the last decade. People often adopt meditation and mindfulness as part of their stress reduction tool kit because of the many benefits, including noticing a significant reduction in stress and anxiety. Establishing a relaxation practice has been shown to improve sleep, lower blood pressure and improve focus and overall mood, to name a few benefits.

The best part is that it does not require a large time commitment. Spending anywhere from 5-20 minutes can be effective for stress reduction. It also requires no special clothing or other materials to get started. All you need is a quiet place with minimal distractions.

Relaxation Body Scan for Stress Relief

Getting Started

To start this relaxation exercise, find a relatively quiet place where you can remain undisturbed for the duration of this exercise. Lie down on a comfortable surface, such as an exercise pad, yoga mat, a bed or a couch. To maintain a relaxed position, legs should be shoulder-width apart, with arms down at the sides, palms facing up. If laying down does not feel good or is not accessible, sitting in a comfortable chair is an acceptable option.  

Take a few deep breaths to establish relaxation. Begin by inhaling deeply through the nostrils for about four seconds, filling your belly with air up to your lungs. Hold this breath for about two seconds.  Slowly exhale the breath out for about six seconds through the mouth with lips blowing out softly, as though you were quietly blowing out a candle. Repeat the inhalation and exhalation for about 4-5 breaths.  

Next, begin the body scan for deeper relaxation, follow continuous steady inhalations and exhalations while moving through a series of tightening and relaxing each group of muscles listed below. It is suggested to keep your eyes closed, but there is also an option to keep them open with a soft gaze, focused on a spot in front of you.

  • Tighten each muscle group or body part for 10 seconds and then relax them for 20 seconds. 
  • Concentrate on the tension in the muscles while tightening them. 
  • As you release the tension, concentrate on muscle relaxation and softening. It is important to concentrate and focus your attention on the sensations in your muscles. 
  • Repeat the "tighten and release/relax" movement with each body part twice before going on to the next area:

Follow the Body Scan Sequence

We recommend starting with the hands and follow the body scan down using the sequence below. 

  • Forehead
  • Eyes 
  • Jaw
  • Mouth
  • Neck
  • Hands
  • Arms
  • Shoulders
  • Deep breath filling the lungs into the belly/stomach 
  • Buttocks
  • Thighs
  • Calves and feets

Once you've completed the tightening/relaxing sequence, remain relaxed and focus on your breathing for about 10-15 breaths. Count each inhalation and exhalation. When you are done with your exercise, flutter your eyelids open. If you are laying down, carefully turn to your side in a fetal position and pause for a couple of breaths before slowly bringing your body to a seated position.

How Often Should You Practice Relaxation?

Repeat this exercise anytime you feel stress coming on or perhaps use this as a helpful break in your afternoon workday.  There's no limit to how often you can practice this relaxation exercise; make it a daily practice in the morning to start your day, or at night to promote restful sleep.