Autogenic Training - The European Relaxation Technique Based Upon Body Awareness

Autogenic training is a century-old European method for achieving relaxation based upon passive concentration and body awareness of specific sensations. Its effectiveness has been shown in relieving many stress-related disorders including anxiety, tension, insomnia, and examination stress. Persons with chronic medical conditions ranging from migraine, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, to thyroid disease and many other conditions have also been shown to benefit from the practice of autogenic training.

A German psychiatrist and neurologist, Johannes Schulz, was the first to describe this technique. In the early 20th century, Dr. Schulz was greatly interested in the work of Prof. Oskar Vogt, a medical researcher who used auto-hypnosis to achieve relaxation and reduction of tension in his patients. Schulz tried to achieve a similar outcome without employing hypnosis by instructing patients to focus on specific body sensations. In 1912 he published a work entitled "Autogenic Organ Exercises" in which he described his work in this area. His "Autogenic Therapy", published in 1932, is the definitive account of autogenic training and includes descriptions of the six autogenic states used in autogenic therapy today.

As with other meditative or relaxation techniques, effective practice of autogenic training results in a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and tension, all of which can have long-ranging health benefits. It can be practiced anywhere at any time. Autogenic training does not imply or involve any religious, cultural, or spiritual practices. Popular in Europe, this technique has been gaining increased acceptance in the USA and in other countries. Autogenic training has become an accepted adjuvant therapy to the extent that it may be covered by health insurance in Germany and is available through the British NHS in some areas.

In simple terms, autogenic training is designed to reverse the "fight or flight" stress response with its release of epinephrine and norepinephrine in the body. Since it is slightly more complex to learn than some meditative techniques, most people find that taking a course is the easiest way to learn the technique. Schulz described six autogenic "formulas" or "states" as follows:

1. focus on heaviness in the arms and legs
2. focus on warmth in the arms and legs
3. focus on warmth and heaviness in the heart area
4. focus on breathing
5. focus on warmth in the abdomen
6. focus on coolness in the forehead

The first two formulas are often broken down to focus first upon the dominant arm, followed by the other arm or the legs. For each formula one repeats a phrase, or formula, silently with closed eyes such as "my arm feels heavy." Breathing is paced slowly and the phrase is repeated five to seven times before opening the eyes and stretching. A recommended practice session is three "sets" of five to seven repetitions with breaks, for a total time of about ten minutes. Practicing the technique twice daily is also recommended. Experts recommend trying to focus upon being an "alert but passive observer" of body sensations.

Each individual formula should be practiced for about a week, or until a satisfactory result is achieved. One then moves on to the next formula and practices it together with the previous ones. Once the technique has been mastered in practice sessions, it can be applied at will in situations of stress or difficulty.

Persons with serious medical conditions should seek the advice of their physician before beginning a course in autogenic training. Autogenic training is not recommended for persons with severe psychological disturbances. One drawback of the technique is the level of time and patience required to fully master the technique. Persons who are highly motivated and show high levels of self-control are best able to learn autogenic training. Volumes of medical literature are available on the use of autogenic training in treating both mental and physical ailments.

The table below lists some of the conditions which have been improved through use of autogenic training as part of a therapeutic regimen.

Conditions with Reported Improvement by Autogenic Training

generalized anxiety
bladder problems
ulcerative colitis
irritable bowel syndrome
thyroid disease
eating disorders
circulation disorders
peptic ulcers