What is Autogenic Training?
Autogenic training is a desensitisation-relaxation technique that focuses on promoting the feeling of calm and relaxation to help reduce your stress and mitigate your anxieties.
The German psychologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz developed autogenic training in the 1920s as a way to target the physical symptoms of stress through relaxation exercises. These relaxation exercises teach your body to focus on its experience of relaxation involving verbal commands you suggest to yourself, as a way to gain a degree of control over the external situations or conditions that may seem overwhelming, stressful or frustrating.
The verbal commands involved in the autogenic training is based on passive concentration of bodily perceptions, “telling” your body to relax. This means you concentrate on inner sensations, such as the heaviness and warmth in the arms and legs, rather than an environmental stimuli. Being passive allows you to observe the sensations that arise rather than actively influence them.
Through your verbal commands, your body elicits a natural relaxation response by slowing down your breath, lowering your blood pressure and heartbeat, and even alleviate many stress-induced psychosomatic disorders. These ultimately produces a feeling of increased well-being, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
While the autogenic training is often used to together with cognitive behavioural therapy for managing anxiety, it can also act as a stand alone tool to help people cope with stress.
How to do Autogenic Training?
Autogenic training consists of six standard exercises that makes the body feel warm, heavy, and relaxed. The goal here is for you to feel a sense of calm and gain better control over unwanted emotional, physiological, and physical responses to stressful, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing external environments or conditions.
Each exercise focuses on a different sensation in the body, and there are six established autogenic training techniques included:
- Inducing heaviness. Verbal cues suggest heaviness in the body.
- Inducing warmth. Verbal cues induce feelings of warmth.
- The heart practice. Verbal cues call attention to the heartbeat.
- Breathing practice. Verbal cues focus on breath.
- Abdominal practice. Verbal cues focus on abdominal sensations.
- Head practice. Verbal cues focus on the coolness of the forehead.
For each exercise, there are a few steps that you take to ease into the autogenic training techniques.
- Setting up. Before you begin, make sure to find a quiet and comfortable spot that you can relax. You then settle into a comfortable position – sitting upright, reclined, or lying down; what is most important is that the chosen posture helps you to ease into a relaxing state.
- Breathing. Start with slow, deep breathes in order to slow down your breathing. Once you have steady and controlled breathes, tell yourself a verbal command such as “I am completely calm”. Saying this to yourself may even be enough to induce your body into a state of relaxation.
- Focus your attention on the sensations in your body. Start with your right arm and repeat the phrase, “My right arm is heavy. I am completely calm”, six times. Continue breathing in slowly and deeply throughout. Once your right arm feels heavy and warm, repeat for your other arm and legs, always repeating the phrase six times and going back to “I am completely calm”.
- Calm your heart. While breathing deeply, repeat to yourself six times “My heartbeat is calm and regular” and then say, “I am completely calm”. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation, warmth, and heaviness throughout the entire process. When you are ready, quietly say “Arms firm, breathe deeply, eyes open”.
In addition to following the above steps, you may wish to use a voice recording, such as Outa’s “Autogenic Training Collection” which has directions to follow along. This would help you to fully relax and focus on the technique.
Is Autogenic Training effective?
The goal of most relaxation techniques, including the autogenic training, is to encourage your body to physically relax. Aside from having shown significant and consistent reduction in the symptoms of anxiety, experts believe that Autogenic Training wo encourages communication between your heart and mind. This communication then influences your body reactions that cannot be controlled under normal circumstances, such as the heartbeat, body temperature and blood pressure.
Additionally, according to a meta-analysis of over 70 outcome studies, autogenic training appeared to be an effective treatment for many different issues, including but not limited to, migraines, hypertension, asthma, anxiety, depression and dysthymia, and insomnia. Autogenic training also has positive impacts on social anxiety disorder (SAD) or general anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms, as it helps you to manage daily stresses and remain calm in social and performance situations. Some may even find that practising autogenic training helps them experience greater self-confidence and increased self-esteem.
Regularly practicing autogenic training, rather than only resorting to it when you are already stressed, may also help you to develop the ability to deal with stress more effectively when it surfaces. Much like how meditation benefits your health with a regular practise, regularly doing autogenic training helps to increase your well-being and feeling more positive about life in general in the long-term.
Outa’s Autogenic Training
You can begin learning each of the six exercises in the autogenic training through Outa’s “Autogenic Training Collection” which covers the complete set of exercises developed by Johannes Schultz. Through regular practise in autogenic training on Outa, even for a few minutes several times a day, you can begin to use it whenever you need a relief from stressful conditions or environments and enjoy the benefits of being in a deep state of relaxation, ultimately enhancing your daily well-being.
While autogenic training is safe for most people and you can learn the six autogenic techniques on your own, we would encourage you to see your doctor for a physical examination and discuss what physiological efforts it could have on you. If you have a medical serious condition or significant psychiatric condition, consult your doctor prior to beginning any type of relaxation training exercise and learn the autogenic training with the guidance of your primary healthcare provider or a therapist trained in this method.