Autogenic training (AT) can help reduce anxiety, depression, stress, and pain levels. It can also help promote immune function, lower blood pressure, and improve digestion and bowel movements. So why don’t more people know about autogenic training?
I’ve struggled with half the things I just mentioned above. I know how bad it is to feel tired and hurt most of the time. When you deal with a lot of anxiety or a lot of pain, you’re desperate to find anything to help you out. Even if it’s just a tiny bit of relief, it makes a world of difference that you're grateful for.
Through being intentional about finding that relief, I discovered autogenic training.
At first glance, the term “autogenic training” probably sounds like exercise to you. While I don’t hate exercise, I’m sure there are a good number of you that probably do. The good news is, this isn’t an exercise at all. You don’t have to lift one single finger to do it.
In fact, it’ll probably be one of the easiest things you’ve ever done in your life, and best of all, it’s completely free.
Not something the pharmaceutical companies probably like, but oh well! I believe when something helps you, you should practice selflessness in sharing it with others.
You can make it one of your new personal goals to regularly practice autogenic training. Of course, you’ll want to know more about it is before trying it. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is The Basis of Autogenic Training?
The basis of the technique is that you communicate a set of lines to your body that it becomes trained to respond to and relax you. Think of it as a magical phrase such as abracadabra or hocus pocus, except that it can work.
At first, it was a bit tricky for me to remember the full script, but after a while, you’re just able to do it by heart. Some recommend focusing on one part of the body each for a few days, and then over time use all of the lines in one session.
Who Developed Autogenic Training?
Autogenic Training was developed by a German psychiatrist named Johannes Heinrich Schultz.
He first came up with the technique in the 1920s after much research and experimentation on himself. He would later release his idea in a book in 1932. It's his most well-known contribution to science.
He would pass down his teaching to his protégé, Wolfgang Luthe, who was responsible for helping spread the technique to the English-speaking world.
What Is Autogenic Training Used For?
AT is used for a lot of different things. One main thing it’s used for is relaxation. It’s designed to give a deep sense of calm at any moment someone starts doing it. As you probably know, stress can cause a lot of different mental and physical problems if not taken care of.
It’s important to bring relaxation and calmness to your body so you can alleviate your stress, and prevent your physical and mental problems from happening.
In addition to being used for relaxation, it’s been used by athletes to improve performance, NASA astronauts to alleviate motion sicknesses, and many other uses as I’ll explain later.
But I'm sure by now you're ready to know how it's done.
How Do I Learn AT?
First, sit or lie down in a comfortable position, and just breathe calmly. You can start out by saying in your mind, “I am completely calm and relaxed”. Then you can start getting into the script.
The first set of lines you repeat is the heaviness lines. Start with your arms. Repeat in your mind 6 to 8 times, “my left arm is heavy”. Breathe slowly and just focus on the feeling in your left arm. Once you’ve repeated the number of times you need to, do the same for your right arm.
Repeat in your mind, “my right arm is heavy”. After you’ve gotten done repeating that line, then repeat, “both my arms are heavy”, 6 to 8 times again. Lastly, say to yourself the closing line, “I am completely calm and relaxed”.
Believe me, once you remember the pattern, it gets easier.
You’ll use the same heaviness line for your legs. “My left leg is heavy”, “My right leg is heavy”, and “Both legs are heavy” all repeated 6 to 8 times each, then ending with the phrase, “I am completely calm and relaxed.”
Again, notice how your legs are feeling, and breathe slowly.
So you get the basic pattern of the beginning of the technique. Left, right, both, and then calm and relaxed.
Now you switch up the line and say in your mind (or out loud), “My left arm is warm”, “My right arm is warm”, “Both my arms warm”, six to eight times each, then the closing line. After you do that, do the same warm lines for your legs, followed by the closing line.
After you’ve done those lines, you’re halfway through AT.
The next line you repeat in your mind will focus on your heart and breathing. Repeat to yourself 6 to 8 times, “my heart is calm and regular”. Then finish again with the closing line, “I’m completely calm and relaxed.”
After you finish the heart line, do the same line for your breathing. Repeat to yourself, “My breathing is calm and regular”, then “I’m completely calm and relaxed”.
Once you’ve done all that, you have just two lines left.
Repeat 6 to 8 times, “my stomach is warm”, and then the closing line. Finally, repeat the line “my forehead is cool", closing with the same line you’ve been closing with all along, “I’m completely calm and relaxed”.
I had to break it down this way so you could fully understand what to do, but below you can see the script in it’s simplest form.
My right arm is heavy, my left arm is heavy, both my arms are heavy (6 to 8 times each)… I’m completely calm and relaxed.
My right leg is heavy, my left leg is heavy, both my legs are heavy (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed
My right arm is warm, my left arm is warm, both my arms are warm (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed.
My right leg is warm, my left leg is warm, both my legs are warm (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed.
My heart is calm and regular (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed
My breathing is calm and regular (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed.
My stomach is warm (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed.
My forehead is cool (6 to 8)… I’m completely calm and relaxed.
Does AT Work?
I can tell you from my personal experience, it’s worked for me. I started trying it a couple of years ago. They say it takes a few months to fully notice the benefits, but I felt like I noticed improvements within a few weeks.
But the key to getting AT to work is consistency. You’re training your body to respond to your mental commands.
Some recommend doing it up to 3 times a day. I personally try to do it 3 times a day, but if you can’t take the time to do it that much, at least try to do it once every day.
Whenever I do it during times I feel pain in my neck, back, or any part of my body now, I start to feel more relaxed instantly. When I finish doing it, I feel a significant enough decrease in my pain levels that made it worth my time.
Now I don’t like to just trust people’s personal experience, and maybe you don’t either. Fortunately, this technique has been around almost a hundred years.
So there’s been proven studies on the effectiveness of AT on many different health conditions and overall well-being.
To begin with, the European Journal of Physical Education and Sport Science found AT can help increase one’s ability to concentrate. Imagine how many ways that can benefit you. If you’re a student, that’ll be great for studying and getting your schoolwork done.
Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine found that AT significantly decreased symptoms of IBS. For my own stomach issues, I’ve been trying to heal for a while, it’s helped a little bit.
Another study done on nursing students, who we know have a very stressful job, found that it helped reduce their stress and anxiety. So AT could be a great technique to practice before work or even on breaks in between work.
The same stress-relieving benefits were found for emergency workers as well. AT improved their quality of life, work motivation, and lessened their feelings of burn-out. With it being so effective for nurses and emergency workers, AT could be just as effective for any of us dealing with a lot of stressful situations.
In addition to those benefits, think about if any of the following questions below apply to you.
Do you have aged skin caused by menopause?
Are you a female experiencing decreased arousal?
Do you have insomnia?
Have trouble controlling your mood?
Have a child with emotional or behavioral problems?
Have a child with ADHD?
Suffer from a migraine, headache, or mild depression?
AT has been documented as having helped with all of those problems.
Why Does AT Get So Little Attention?
So if something’s been proven to potentially do good for people’s health, why doesn’t it get a lot more attention? There’s no clear answer to that.
As I mentioned earlier, the technique came about in Germany in the 1920s. It stayed in Germany for a long time during and after WWII. There was no book in English on AT until 1959, so initially, the language barrier kept it from spreading much.
In the ’70s, Dr. Herbert Benson was one of the first US doctors to advocate the relaxation treatment as an effective remedy.
But today, the practice seems to get lost in the shadow of other highly popularized relaxation treatments such as mindfulness. Though some experts view mindfulness as a bit of an over-hyped practice.
I’ve presented you with some of the more recent studies on AT that used rigorous standards. And a couple of the studies also openly admitted when they felt more testing needed to be done.
Is It Safe To Do AT?
You should always make sure you do your own research and consult your physician before starting a new health practice.
Having said that, it is of course partially helpful to know other people’s experience. And as far as my personal experience, I haven’t had any problems whenever I’ve practiced AT.
But there is information that does point to certain types of people who would put their health at risk practicing it. According to the American College of Cardiology, people with serious diseases such as diabetes or a heart condition should only practice AT under the supervision of a doctor.
It’s also not recommended for children younger than 5. In addition, people with very severe cases of mental or emotional disorders have been advised not to do it without the supervision of a psychiatrist. They can determine if it’d be helpful and can help one do it in a safe and effective way.
If you notice any negative impact on your physical or mental health, you should definitely stop immediately, and practice it again only if your doctor tells you it’s safe for you to do.
Final Thoughts On AT
AT has been one of many different health practices I’ve discovered which helped me take back some control of my health. But there’s no one magical solution that’ll help you fix all of your health problems.
It takes a collection of positive health choices to help relieve your pain and improve your overall well-being. So don’t think AT will be the one thing that makes everything better.
But if it’s safe for you to do, and if you’re willing to try something new, AT just might give you the extra boost of health that you’ve been looking for.