A thorough, comprehensive technique for relaxation and personal transformation, autogenic training – developed in the early 1930s by the German psychiatrist Johannes H Schultz – consists of a series of simple mental exercises designed to turn off the body’s `fight or flight’ mechanism, and turn on the restorative rhythms and harmonizing associated with profound psychophysical relaxation. Practiced daily, it can bring results comparable to those achieved by serious Eastern meditators.
Yet unlike meditation, autogenics has no cultural, religious or cosmological overtones. It demands no special clothing, unusual postures or practices. When you practice autogenics, emotional and spiritual detoxification happens in just the way physical detoxification occurs on Clean Sweep Diet, and once again the whole process is generated from within.
freedom from within
Johannes Schultz was a student of the clinically orientated neuro-pathologist Oskar Vogt, who at the turn of the century at the Berlin Neurological Institute was deeply involved in research on sleep and hypnosis. Vogt remarked that some of his patients who had been subjected to hypnosis developed the ability to put themselves in and out of a hypnotic state – or rather autohypnotic, since it was self-induced. These people experienced remarkable relief from tension and fatigue and also tended to lose whatever psychosomatic disorders they had been suffering from. Drawing on Vogt’s observations, Schultz went on to design techniques that would enable people to induce this deep mental and psychological relaxation at will.
Schultz found that when men and women enter the autohypnotic state they experience two specific physical phenomena: the first was a sensation of heaviness in their limbs and torso, and the second a feeling of diffuse warmth throughout the body. This warmth is the result of vasodilation in the peripheral arteries and the sensation of heaviness is caused by deep relaxation in the body’s muscles. Schultz reasoned that if he taught people to suggest to themselves that these things were happening to their bodies, they might rapidly and simply be able to experience a state of passive concentration, which in turn would exert a positive influence over the autonomic nervous system, balancing energies of mind and body, helping a person experience a high level of relaxed vitality and freedom from premature degeneration, and gradually clearing away negative thought and behavior patterns that have been interfering with a person making full use of his or her potential.
Schultz discovered – as have many since – that in a state of passive concentration, all activities governed by the autonomic nervous system, once believed to be out of man’s control, can be influenced by the person himself. This happens not by exercising any conscious act of will but rather by learning to abandon oneself to an ongoing organismic process.
This strange paradox of self-induced passivity is central to the way autogenic training works its wonders. It is a skill which Eastern yogis, famous for their ability to resist cold and heat, to change the rate of their heartbeat, levitate and perform many other extraordinary feats, have long practiced. But until the development of biofeedback and autogenic training, and the arrival of Eastern meditation techniques, this passive concentration largely remained a curiosity in the West, where active, logical, linear, verbal thinking has been encouraged to the detriment of practicing our innate ability to simply be. Many experts on the psychological processes of aging believe that it is overemphasis on the use of the conscious will in the West that makes us so prone to premature aging and stress-based illnesses in the first place.
get warm and heavy
To help his patients induce the autogenic state, Schultz worked with the sensations of heaviness and warmth. Later he added suggestions about regular heartbeat and gentle quiet breathing – two more natural physiological characteristics of relaxation – and then went on to suggestions of warmth in the belly and coolness of the forehead. These six physiologically-orientated directions – heaviness and warmth in the legs and arms, regulation of the heartbeat and breathing, abdominal warmth and cooling of the forehead – form the core of autogenic training.
A person learning autogenics goes through each of the six steps, one by one: “My arms and legs are heavy and warm, my heartbeat is calm and regular etc” each time he or she practices. Because of the body and mind’s ability with repetition to slip more and more rapidly into the deeply relaxed yet highly aware autogenic state, the formula becomes increasingly shortened until after a few weeks or months of practicing you can virtually induce a state of profound psychophysical relaxation at will. Once you have mastered the exercises, they can be practiced anywhere – even sitting on a bus.
balance life energies
A key principle on which autogenics is based is that the body will naturally balance its life energies, biochemically and psychologically, when allowed to repeatedly enter a relaxed state. The benefits of being able to do this are virtually endless. Some of them come immediately – such as being able to counteract acute stress and fatigue, refresh yourself and clear your mind. People with high blood pressure who learn autogenics report drops in systolic blood pressure from 11 to 25% and more, as well as 5 to 15% in diastolic pressure. Brain-wave activity also changes so that you get a better balance of right and left hemisphere, leading to improved creativity at work and a sense of being at peace with oneself. Other benefits come more slowly over the weeks and months and years that you practice. Recoveries from bronchial asthma and a whole range of other psychosomatic disorders have been reported, as well as the elimination of self-destructive behavior patterns and habits such as drug taking, compulsive eating and alcoholism. As a result, autogenic training is now given as a standard instruction in Germany and Switzerland.
The basic autogenic exercises are simple. Taking up one of three optional postures – sitting slumped rather like a rag doll on a stool, lounging in an easy chair, or lying on your back with your arms at your side – make sure you are reasonably protected from noise and disturbances and that your clothes are loose and comfortable. It is easiest to learn autogenics lying flat on a floor or on a very firm bed. Once you have got the basic exercise under your belt you can do it just about any time, anywhere, sitting up or even very discretely on a bus on the way to work. If you like, you can record the autogenic exercises that follow on tape very slowly and play it to yourself in the beginning. I generally find, however, that it is better to learn it very simply from the words that are in the box below.
Lie down on your back in bed or on the floor. Make yourself comfortable with whatever pillows or covers you need to do so. Close your eyes gently. Take a deep slow breath and pause for a moment. Now exhale fully and completely. Let yourself breathe slowly and naturally. Feel your body sinking back into the floor. Now repeat the following phrases to yourself slowly and silently letting yourself savor the sensations of heaviness and warmth as you do. The first phrase is: My left arm is heavy… my left arm is heavy… my left arm is heavy… my right arm is heavy… my right arm is heavy… my right arm is heavy… Let go of any tension in your arms as you say to yourself: My left arm is heavy… my left arm is heavy… my left arm is heavy… repeating each suggestion three times. Continue to breathe slowly and naturally, remembering to exhale fully. Say to yourself: Both arms are heavy… both arms are heavy… both arms are heavy. Let go of any tension in your arms. Then say: Both legs are heavy… both legs are heavy… both legs are heavy… As you continue to breathe slowly and naturally, say to yourself: Arms and legs heavy… arms and legs heavy… arms and legs heavy… arms and legs warm… arms and legs warm… arms and legs warm…
Feel the warmth flow through to your arms and legs as you say to yourself: Arms and legs warm… arms and legs warm… arms and legs warm… Continue to breathe slowly and freely while you repeat silently to yourself: My breathing calm and easy… my breathing calm and easy… my breathing calm and easy… my heartbeat calm and regular… my heartbeat calm and regular… my heartbeat calm and regular… Feel your strong, regular heartbeat as you say the words to yourself. Continue to breathe easily and say to yourself: My solar plexus is warm… my solar plexus is warm… my solar plexus is warm… Feel the muscles in your face relax as you say to yourself: My forehead is cool and clear… my forehead is cool and clear… my forehead is cool and clear… Enjoy the feeling of softness and calm throughout your body and say to yourself: I am at peace… I am at peace… I am at peace…
When you have finished the exercise you are ready for the return. It will bring you back to normal everyday consciousness: Quickly clench both fists, take a deep breath in, flex both arms up in a stretch, then breathe out slowly and completely, returning your arms with unclenched fists to your sides. Now open your eyes. Lie for a moment with your eyes open and just allow yourself to BE HERE NOW WITH WHATEVER IS, then get up and go about your life.
When first learning autogenics, you will need to repeat each suggestion three times and the entire exercise itself needs to be repeated at three different periods each day. The best time is just before you get out of bed, just before you go to sleep, and at some other moment of the day. If there is no way you can lie down during the day you can always do the exercise sitting in a chair. If you are practicing in public such as on a bus or at your desk in an office, draw your fists up to your chest by bending your elbows rather than bringing the whole arm above the head for the return.
Before long you will find that even the simple suggestion “my right arm is heavy” will trigger the psychophysical relaxation process in the whole body. Some people get feelings of heaviness and warmth right away. For others it can take as long as a week or two of practicing three times a day for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. To everybody it comes eventually, and with it comes a profound sense of relaxation. Canceling the training session occurs when you clench your hand into a fist and raise your arm straight above your head, or bend your arm and draw your fist to your shoulders, at the same time taking a deep breath and then stretching. This trains your body to return to normal consciousness right away. Meanwhile your temporary excursion into the realm of deep relaxation keeps working its magic.
autogenic training made simple
Here is an aid memoir for practice. Repeat each suggestion 3 times:
MY LEFT ARM IS HEAVY…
MY RIGHT ARM IS HEAVY
BOTH ARMS ARE HEAVY…
BOTH ARMS ARE WARM…
BOTH LEGS ARE HEAVY
ARMS AND LEGS HEAVY…
ARMS AND LEGS WARM
BREATHING IS CALM AND EASY…
HEARTBEAT CALM AND REGULAR
MY SOLAR PLEXUS IS WARM…
MY FOREHEAD IS COOL
I AM AT PEACE
CLENCH BOTH FISTS
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
FLEX BOTH ARMS UP IN A STRETCH
BREATHE OUT SLOWLY
OPEN YOUR EYES
LIE FOR A MOMENT WITH EYES OPEN
BE HERE NOW WITH WHATEVER IS.
Repeat each suggestion three times, repeat the exercise three times a day.
discharge the blocks
Although autogenic training brings about a `low-arousal’ state similar to yoga and meditation, where parasympathetic activity dominates, it stems from exercises meant specifically to induce simple physical sensations leading to a state of relaxation of a purely physical nature. The benefits which come with practicing it go far beyond the physical: in addition to slowing the heartbeat, reducing blood pressure, regenerating and rejuvenating the body, autogenics triggers changes in the reticular activating system in the brain stem which can result in what are known as `autogenic discharges’. These are a spontaneous way of de-stressing and de-aging the body, eliminating old tensions and wiping away thought patterns that may have been inhibiting the full expression of your being.
Autogenic discharges can manifest themselves as temporary twitching of the arms or legs – much like the twitch experienced occasionally on falling into a deep sleep – during the session itself, or increased peristaltic movement – stomach grumbles – or various transient feelings of dizziness or visual or auditory effects. These phenomena are harmless, quick to come and go, yet an important part of throwing out life-accumulated, stressful material stored in the body or psyche.
A few people – I among them – when they first begin autogenic training, go through two or three weeks where a lot of old stress and emotional rubbish gets released through autogenic discharge. Old feelings of discouragement or depression, laughter or anxiety can sometimes rise to the surface. It is important to be aware of this possibility and to be aware of what is happening if it does occur. It is only the psychic side of detox that will help renew, refresh, and rejuvenate you, as old stress you have been carrying about with you rises to the surface to clear permanently.
Because of this discharge phenomenon, some psychologists in the English speaking world who teach autogenics like to work on a one-to-one basis with their students in order to help them gain perspective on what is coming up from their consciousness. In Germany and Switzerland this is not considered important. There, autogenic training is taught as a matter of course both to adults and school children with no such psychological back up. The important thing to remember is whatever surfaces is likely to be very old indeed, stuff you’ve been carrying around for a long time and which you are far better off without.
three’s the charm
Begin your practice of autogenics on day 2 of 10 Day Rejuvenation Plan adding it to Clean Sweep Diet. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to run through autogenics while you are learning it. Afterwards the exercises can be done much more quickly – eventually in two or three minutes if necessary. Rather like Pavlov’s dog, who learned to salivate simply because the bell sounded and the food appeared together so many times, the magic of autogenics depends on your continual repetition of the exercise again and again, day after day. Once the initial period of learning is completed, you can then choose to practice the exercises once or twice a day whenever you like. In the process you will have gained a lifelong skill that is invaluable for de-aging the body and mind.
Within 10 days to 2 weeks of practicing autogenics,most people feel a steady and increasing release of creative energy, and a sense that great burdens are being lifted away so that – often for the first time – they begin to feel more free to live their own life by their own values. It is rejuvenation at its very best.
the zen of now
There are two important aspects to making autogenic training work for you. The first is a real acceptance of your current circumstances or position – knowing that anything that you feel just now, whether it happens to be fear, anxiety, joy, frustration, inadequacy or environmental stress, is OK for the moment. It is only through acceptance of ‘what is’ now that we open the gateways to change. The second important thing about autogenic training is self-discipline. You need to make time to do the exercises each day and to establish a routine.