I recently wrote a post on why meditation is important for musical theater actors, along with an eBook how-to-meditate guide. Progressive muscle relaxation is an equally useful relaxation technique that has applications for musical theater. As performers, relaxation techniques are extremely important for the work that we do, because we need to be able to clear our chattering thoughts on a moment’s notice, calm your pre-performance jitters, give a truthful response, connect with a character, or concentrate quickly on some challenging choreography that the dance captain has changed at the last minute. More so than any other career, musical theater demands the skill of silencing your mind and coming into the present. Progressive muscle relaxation is a sounds fancy, but it's really simple - just relaxing your muscles one at a time over a sequenced period. It can be done by itself or before or after meditation. If you're having trouble getting your mind relaxed enough to meditate, progressive muscle relaxation can be a great routine to do first because when the body is relaxed, the mind will automatically relax, which will segue into a nice meditation session. It can also be a great pre-bedtime routine for insomniacs. As for stage applications, progressive muscle relaxation is particularly useful for performers because, over time, it teaches your body the control over isolating individual muscles, a skill that is important in dance and general movement on stage.
Progressive muscle relaxation: how-to
Find a quiet space and lay down with arms naturally at your sides and legs fully extended.
Close your eyes.
Prepare with three slow, deep breaths.
As much as possible, focus all of your attention on the task at hand, don't let your mind wander.
Tense your forehead muscle, holding it as tight as you can, for about five seconds. As you do this, inhale and hold the breath while the muscle is tense, and then exhale and breath normally as you let the muscle relax. Enjoy the relaxed position for about five seconds and then move on to the next muscle.
Repeat the above process with the following muscle groups: your face/cheek muscles, neck muscles, shoulders (pull them up and tight), back muscles (pull your shoulder blades back and in), ads/stomach muscles, arms and hands (make a fist while you do this and tense it all the way down to the fingers), glutes, thighs, calves, and then finally feet.
You're done. Lay and enjoy the relaxed position for as long as you want, or scan your body again and repeat any areas that are still tense.
Take it deeper
If you've completed the above sequence and want to take muscle relaxation to the next level, try this: scan your body again from top to bottom but this time don't actually tense and release the muscles. Instead, start with your forehead, and just think about relaxing those muscles. Don't do anything physically, just say in your head, "my forehead muscles are relaxing." Focus on the idea and just let the muscle be there, and by planting the idea your muscles will relax. As you move from one body part to the next you're holding your calm, relaxed awareness there.
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