Autogenic Training-Managing Stress with Self-Directed Commands
Autogenic training is a deep and powerful relaxation technique that can help you attain a mellow tranquil state. It involves a series of repeated self-commands.
This deep relaxation technique was developed by a German psychiatrist named Johannes Schultz as a form of self-hypnosis. The technique entails repeating certain formulaic phrases in order to produce physiological changes that result in a calming effect. It’s a lot more passive an approach than progressive relaxation which involves tensing muscles, holding the tension and then releasing. Autogenic training is more popular in Europe and Japan than North America which might be why you’ve never heard of it.
Simply repeating the phrases by rote doesn’t typically help much the same way affirmations don’t work if you don’t believe them. If you try to affirm what your unconscious doesn’t believe, then mere repetition can reinforce the lie and create an internal struggle. The tone, pacing and ability to create imagery can make autogenic training very effective in evoking a deep physiological calming effect in your body. The video below is to help you get the hang of this.
The guided meditation included below is an introduction to autogenic training so you can get used to its components and use it on your own as preparation for EMDR or to help facilitate sleep, let go of stress or chronic pain. You can also use it because it simply feels good. It should not be used with certain health conditions such as severe heart problems, psychosis, diabetes, paranoia, or dissociation. An experienced therapist can help you monitor and implement the practice.
What Happens in Autogenic Training?
As you progress and get the feel for autogenic training, you may find that you don’t have to repeat the key phrases so many times. About 5-6 times is good at the outset. As you learn the advanced phrases, you might need only repeat each phrase 3 or so times. Also, give yourself permission to adjust the wording so it make sense to you and fits how you relate to your body and inner consciousness.
You want to work towards being able do to this on your own. Most people can focus better with their own images with their eyes closed. This is the preferred starting position. There are images in the training video for those who prefer not to close their eyes or want to view/listen to the video a few times prior to starting. (Which is also a good idea).
The Structure of Autogenic Training
As with any new practice, it’s best to start slow and build to a routine that allows your body to acclimate to your internal commands. Remember, this is a beginner’s training.
As you familiarize yourself with the formula for the autogenic training, notice that the “calm” or “peace” phrases are at the beginning and end of the meditation only one time.
When you are more familiar with this type of meditation, autogenic training is great for relieving chronic pain, increasing emotional regulation, decreasing anxiety and reducing depression. At a beginner level, this abbreviated form of autogenic training works well to help you relax for a good night’s sleep.
Getting the Most Out of Autogenic Training
As you gain more confidence through continued practice, combining the phrases with your own images will facilitate the feeling of heaviness and relaxation that you wish to promote.
Using your “calm space” imagery from your EMDR preparation is a great starting point. You may think about others that you can include. This is very helpful to evoke that deep feeling of relaxation. Something to keep in mind is to try to get yourself into a mindset of gentle promptings. If you can enter this mediation without aggressive expectations, it is more likely to be effective.
Let the prompts “float through your mind” as it were without expectation of a specific result. We are evoking a trance like state akin to pre-sleep where your body is more open to suggestion.
Remember, if at anytime you are uncomfortable, stop and seek out a licensed health professional. Also, consider practicing with your therapist especially if you have questions or don’t feel any difference after a few times working through it on your own.
Your Introduction to Autogenic Training
Each formula in autogenic training has a separate focus on manifesting a particular sensation in the body. Other techniques included in more advanced autogenic training include verbal cues to:
- Induce heaviness in your muscles
- Induce warmth in your body
- Sense a more relaxed heartbeat
- Notice steady breathing
- Relax your abdomen
- Feel a cool sensation on your forehead
How Long Should You Practice Autogenic Training?
Ideally, you learn one technique at a time. Working at a steady pace, you might take four to six months to master all the basic techniques. This beginner’s video only walks you through one so you can crawl before you run. The first six minutes or so of our introductory video are a warm up to the autogenic training using extended relaxation prompts. You might want to just listen to that part to get used to guided meditation. Many people find the beginning part helpful to induce a pleasant sleepiness to get to sleep. You can also try our regular centered practice that includes diaphragmatic breathing that your therapist will introduce to you in your first session.
The benefits of autogenics aren’t likely to kick in as intended without consistent practice.
Tips for Practice
Try not to rush to complete this. It’s more important that you take your time to tune into your body. When completed, don’t bolt upwards. Relax and get up slowly to transition to alertness and reduce likelihood of a sudden drop in blood pressure. Don’t practice under the use of any alcohol or narcotics. Try to keep your eyes closed, unless you find this troubling. If you open your eyes to read the prompts, you can just close them again as you say them to yourself. If you fall asleep during your practice, that’s ok. You can pick up where you left off the next time.
Mind-body Healing: How Autogenic Training Works
Autogenic training, also called autogenics or AT, means “self-generated” or “self-regulated.” By repeating a series of self-commands, you teach your body to respond to your prompts.
If you can combine the technique with imagery as you have learned in therapy with techniques such as the “container” and “calm space,” you can impact your parasympathetic nervous system directly. In other words, autogenic training can help you gain control over bodily functions that are normally involuntary.
This includes functions such as your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion and temperature. The implications for stress relief are quite significant in view of the fact that chronic stress puts us at risk for health conditions such as tension headaches, sleep disorders, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Not to mention the impact on our mental health in terms of anxiety, depression and ADHD. There have been over a hundred studies exploring the effects of autogenic training on a number of conditions.
“This guided meditation is an introduction to autogenic training so you can get used to its components and use it on your own as preparation for EMDR or to help facilitate sleep, let go of stress or chronic pain. You can also use it because it simply feels good.”
How to Do Autogenic Training
This is a sample of what is included in your introductory video:
First, find a comfortable position lying down or sitting where you won’t be distracted.
Uncross arms and legs to allow “flow” through your body.
Take a few slow, deep breaths.
Repeat the following statements 3 to 6 times each.
Try to visualize what you are saying as you repeat each statement.
Gently loosen any tension in your jaw and relax your shoulders.
Relax into a comfortable breathing rhythm. Just follow your breath and go with its flow.
Notice your upper arms and shoulders relax. Your whole body is relaxed.
Sample Autogenic Training Script
Repeat softly in your head:
- “I feel calm and relaxed.”
- “My breathing is calm and steady.”
- “I am completely calm and relaxed.”
- “My right arm is very heavy”
- “My left arm is very heavy”
- “Both of my arms are very heavy”
- “My right leg is very heavy”
- “My left leg is very heavy”
- “My arms and my legs are very heavy”
- “I feel calm and relaxed.”
Stretch. Take deep breaths in and out. Gently open your eyes and bring your awareness to the present moment.
Below are some links that provide more information on mind-body healing. As always, reach out if you have comments about this journal entry or need more information:
You can find other soundbites related to preparation for therapy here . Stay in tune with issues related to your well-being and mental health right here in the Urim Recovery Journal updated 2x a week.