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Autogenic Training: How to Practice Autogenic Therapy

Practice-Autogenic-Therapy

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Autogenic training, also referred to as autogenic therapy, is a practice that harnesses the body’s natural ability to relax and counteract various mental and physical symptoms.

This versatile technique, which involves controlled breathing, specific verbal cues, and mindful meditation, is not limited to just sports psychology. Autogenic training holds promise for addressing a diverse range of concerns, extending its benefits beyond athletic performance, and goes much deeper, offering a holistic approach to overall health and wellness.

In this article, we will dive deeper into the world of autogenic training, the benefits, exercises, and how it actually works.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program, making changes to your nutrition plan, or adding any supplements to your current regimen.

What is Autogenic Training?

Autogenic training (AT) or autogenic therapy is a relaxation technique that involves visualization.

To practice autogenic training, a person focuses on a physical sensation or specific body part to enter a state of relaxation. This self-hypnosis centers on muscle heaviness, body temperature, and releasing tension. Practitioners can express verbal phrases to induce relaxation.

German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz developed this method at his neurology and psychiatry practice in Berlin in the 1920s before medical and mental health professionals widely accepted it. This physical and sensory experience can help reduce tension headaches and sleep issues and lower blood pressure, among other health benefits.

Despite being less known compared to other relaxation methods, a 2008 meta-analysis underscored the effectiveness of autogenic training in managing anxiety.

Interestingly enough, I interviewed a guy named Peter Siegel, who worked with athletes, and part of what he did involved this type of practice in order to help athletes perform at the highest level.

How Does Autogenic Training Work?

Autogenic training was first created to help people relax. It’s a bit like yoga or meditation because it affects how your body’s automatic nervous system works.

The main idea behind autogenic training is to teach people to make themselves calm when they need to. This can help them deal with stress better and control things like their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

People who are trained in this method teach six basic techniques to others, but they do it slowly over several months. These techniques are meant to make your muscles feel heavy and your body warm. They also help you pay attention to things like your heartbeat and breathing.

A session usually lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, but it’s important to practice at home every day.

Autogenic Training Exercises

Autogenic training is a method aimed at helping your mind and body relax by following a sequence of six phases. The goal is to create sensations of warmth and heaviness throughout your body and a cool feeling in your forehead.

Here are the six standard exercises used in autogenic training:

  • Muscle heaviness in limbs: Begin by focusing on one limb at a time, expressing phrases like, “My left arm feels increasingly heavy.” Shift to the next limb until all limbs can relax simultaneously.
  • Body warmth: After experiencing muscle heaviness, shift your focus to feeling warmth throughout your body, starting with individual body parts before embracing warmth in your entire body.
  • Heartbeat calmness: When you feel warm and heavy, concentrate on slowing your heart rate by stating, “My chest feels relaxed and warm. My heartbeat is calm and tranquil.”
  • Deep, calm breathing: Progress to your breathing without trying to actively control it. Instead, say, “My body breathes naturally and deeply.”
  • Abdominal softness and warmth: Relax your abdominal area by stating, “My gut (or chest or solar plexus) feels warm and soft.”
  • Forehead coolness: Finally, soothe tension in your head and face by cooling your forehead internally, saying, “My forehead is relaxed and pleasantly cool.”

Once you’ve mastered each phase individually, you’ll progress through all six in one session. The duration of a complete session varies, so allow yourself time to relax naturally and gradually.

Benefits of Autogenic Training

Autogenic training is known for its potential to address various health issues and conditions, including:

  • Unexplained pain
  • Tension and migraine headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Vascular diseases

In a 2021 survey conducted during the COVID-19 quarantines in Spain, researchers explored the impact of autogenic training on individuals’ subjective perception of physical and emotional health.

The findings suggested that autogenic training could be beneficial for individuals experiencing fear of illness, moments of high anxiety, and a desire to improve their relationships with others.

Similarly, a 2020 study examined the potential of autogenic training to address physical health issues.

Is Autogenic Training Effective?

Studies have shown that autogenic training is beneficial for improving both mental and physical health.

According to a 2002 report, this relaxation technique has moderate to significant effectiveness in improving overall well-being. However, the extent of its success may vary among individuals, depending on factors such as dedication, consistent daily practice, patience, and the severity of the condition being addressed.

 

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