Autogenic relaxation, also called autogenic training, is a technique which involves progressive relaxation of the extremities, heartbeat stabilization, and maintenance of slow, deep breaths. It was developed by psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz in 1932.

How Does it Work?

Autogenic relaxation consists of exercises that make your body feel warm, heavy, and relaxed. You begin by finding a comfortable position in a chair, on the floor, or in the “ragdoll" position on a stool. A teacher or psychiatrist instructs you to focus on different parts of your body and relax your breathing, while encouraging you to visualize scenes that make you feel relaxed.

Therapists and teachers specializing in autogenic relaxation do not encourage this method of relaxation unless the patient is willing to perform these exercises at least once daily for four to six months.

Is it Scientifically Backed?

Since 1932, autogenic training has been evaluated as a treatment option for a variety of illnesses. In a 2002 meta-analysis of previous studies, researchers concluded that autogenic training often helped emotional and psychological issues in patients. For example:

  • A study, performed in 1983, attempted to use autogenic training to reduce stress in infertile women. Female participants of this study showed marked improvement in the ability to conceive after performing autogenic relaxation techniques for four months. Researchers concluded that, “Autogenic training provides a suitable means of reducing the anxiety in these patients [the infertile women], making them more self-assured and confident."
  • In 1984, a study performed on 17-26 year olds with migraines had positive results. Of the participants who performed autogenic training, 93% had 50% less headaches than they had before the study.

Who Does it Help?

Since its creation in 1932, autogenic training has aided many in achieving relaxation. Though it does not replace existing medications, it is highly recommended for patients with anxiety because it regularizes the heartbeat and encourages deep breathing.

Multiple studies have also found that psychosomatic responses to anxiety can also be reduced by autogenic training. These responses include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach problems, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Ulcers
  • Headache
  • Racing heart or irregular heartbeat

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Nancy De Andrade, Ph.D, OM
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Date of original publication:

Updated: March 16, 2017