Relaxation techniques are basically various methods used to focus the attention on calming the mind and relaxing the muscles and include activities such as visualisation exercises, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises. Meditation and practices that include meditation with movement, such as yoga and tai chi, can also promote relaxation.

The goal is similar in all; to produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterised by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of increased well-being.

Relaxation techniques work very well with children as they are all gentle exercises.

One of the major boons of relaxation training has been in lessening or alleviating chronic, severe pain. Such pain can arise from many different causes, including backache and chronic migraine or tension headaches, diseases such as cancer, and even as the unintended outcome of operations to control pain.

A History of the Medical Use of Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation Therapy has been around for thousands of years in the forms of transcendental meditation (TM), yoga, t’ai chi, qigong, and vipassana (a Buddhist form of meditation meaning insight and also known as mindfulness meditation).

Progressive relaxation, a treatment that rids the body of anxiety and related tension through progressive relaxation of the muscle groups, was first described by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in  1929.

Relaxation in psychology is the emotional state of a living being, of low tension, in which there is an absence of arousal that could come from sources such as anger, anxiety, or fear.

The idea of relaxation in psychology became popular when Dr. Edmund Jacobson published his book Progressive Relaxation, a technical book geared toward doctors and scientists.

Jacobson then published another book called You Must Relax in 1934 that was geared towards the general public.

According to Jacobson, his research started in 1908 at Harvard University, and later moving on to Cornell and University of Chicago. His research was aimed at improving the general human well-being.

In 1932, Johannes Schultz, a neuropsychiatrist who studied with Oscar Vogt, an eminent researcher into human brain functioning in Germany during the 1920s and 30s, developed a method of relaxation that emphasised using the power of suggestion, called Autogenic Training.

It was then further researched and fine-tuned by Dr Wolfgang Luthe, professor of Psychophysiology at McGill University in Montreal.

Simply speaking, Autogenic Training (AT) consists of a straightforward series of mental exercises designed to switch off the stress “fight or flight” system of the body and bring about profound relaxation in both mind and body.

Dr. Herbert Benson, the guru of mind/body medicine, graduated from Wesleyan University and the Harvard School of Medicine, and nurtured his interest in mind/body relationships and developed an expertise in behavioural medicine and spiritual healing.

In his research, Benson straddled the thin line between medicine and religion. He conceived of what he called a three-legged approach to health care: self-care, pharmaceuticals, and medical treatment or surgery.

His most significant work was his discovery of the relaxation response, which is the connection between lowered blood pressure and transcendental meditation.

“[B]elief is one of the most powerful healing tools we have in our therapeutic arsenal.”
~ Dr. Herbert Benson ~

In 1975, Dr. Benson published his ground-breaking work The Relaxation Response, which described in detail the stress-reduction mechanism in the body that short-circuits the “fight-or-flight” response and lowers blood pressure, relieves muscle tension, and controls heart rate.

This work gave further credence and legitimacy to the link between mind and body medicine. A number of today’s commonly used relaxation techniques, such as cue-controlled relaxation, are a direct result of Benson’s work in this area.

Relaxation Techniques as a Complementary Therapy

Cancer is a very stressful disease – between the pain and the stress of not really understanding what is going on, all the poking and prodding, injections and numerous tests, not to even mention the cancer treatments, children really need something that can just help them to relax and not think about their situation for a while.

Relaxation techniques work well, especially during treatment when the child is feeling particularly vulnerable and has neither the strength not the energy to run around and play or do any strenuous exercises.

Relaxation techniques may be helpful in managing a variety of health conditions, including anxiety associated with illnesses or medical procedures, insomnia, labour pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Psychological therapies, which may include relaxation techniques, can help manage chronic headaches and other types of chronic pain in children and adolescents.

The medical advantages are not from ordinary relaxing activities, such as catnaps or gardening, but from intensive techniques that allow people to evoke a specific physiological state.

‘Just sitting quietly or, say, watching television, is not enough to produce the physiological changes,” said Herbert Benson, director of the Division of Behavioural Medicine at Beth Israel Hospital, a part of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

”You need to use a relaxation technique that will break the train of everyday thought, and decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.”

Like meditation and yoga, some of the relaxation techniques being used are quite ancient. Others, like biofeedback or progressive muscle relaxation, are relatively new. And some, like repetitive prayer, may seem worlds away from medicine. All of the techniques, though, seem to evoke a single physiological state that Dr. Benson some years ago called the ”Relaxation Response.”

The findings have led many hospitals to teach their patients ways to relax as part of their medical treatment.

In some hospitals physicians can now prescribe a relaxation program that is broadcast on televisions in hospital rooms, so that patients can learn the techniques from their hospital beds.

”More and more doctors are seeing the value of these techniques as a way to tap the inner capacity of patients to help with their own healing,” said Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

A 57-minute relaxation videotape on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) made by Dr. Kabat-Zinn is in use at about a hundred hospitals. On that videotape, for example, patients are taught to meditate on their breathing, and are led in scanning the sensations throughout their bodies.

The sympathetic nervous system reacts to stress by secreting hormones that mobilize the body’s muscles and organs to face a threat. Sometimes called the ”fight-or-flight response,” this mobilisation includes a variety of biological responses, including shifting blood flow from the limbs to the organs and increased blood pressure. In contrast, the relaxation response releases muscle tension, lowers blood pressure and slows the heart and breath rates.

Along with these changes come shifts in hormone levels that seem to produce beneficial effects on the immune system. For example, relaxation training in medical students during exams was found to increase their levels of helper cells that defend against infectious disease, according to a report the Journal of Behavioural Medicine.


Relaxation is being used clinically in a much larger range of medical problems than the research so far has been able to assess. These include the management of the side effects of such medical procedures as kidney dialysis and cancer chemotherapy, gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia, emphysema and skin disorders.

  • A 2014 evaluation of the scientific evidence found that psychological therapies, which may include relaxation techniques as well as other approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, can reduce pain in children and adolescents with chronic headaches or other types of chronic pain. The evidence is particularly promising for headaches: the effect on pain may last for several months after treatment, and the therapies also help to reduce anxiety.
  • A study involving 23,700 industrial employees in Japan showed that AT improved both physical and mental health, reduced industrial accidents by two thirds, increased productivity and brought about a reduction in both absenteeism and medical expenditure. A research review reported that more than 60 controlled clinical studies of AT gave evidence of positive effects in cases of hypertension, asthma, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, atopic dermatitis and frontal lobe epilepsy. People with anxiety, sleep disorders and depression also found it a real boon.
  • Evaluations of the research evidence have found promising but not conclusive evidence that guided imagery may relieve musculoskeletal pain (pain involving the bones or muscles) and other types of pain.
  • An analysis of data on hospitalised cancer patients showed that those who received integrative medicine therapies, such as guided imagery and relaxation response training, during their hospitalization had reductions in both pain and anxiety.
  • There is evidence that relaxation techniques can be helpful in managing chronic insomnia. Relaxation techniques can be combined with other strategies for getting a good night’s sleep, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and strenuous exercise too close to bedtime; and sleeping in a quiet, cool, dark room.
  • Studies have shown relaxation techniques may reduce anxiety in people with ongoing health problems such as heart disease or inflammatory bowel disease, and in those who are having medical procedures such as breast biopsies or dental treatment. Relaxation techniques have also been shown to be useful for older adults with anxiety.

How are Relaxation Techniques Administered?

Typically a therapist leads one through these exercises and eventually one may be able to do them on one’s own or with the help of guided relaxation recordings.

Relaxation techniques include the following:


In breathing techniques, you place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a slow, deep breath, sucking in as much air as you can. As you’re doing this, your belly should push against your hand. Hold your breath and then slowly exhale.

Autogenic Training

This technique uses both visual imagery and body awareness to move a person into a deep state of relaxation. The person imagines a peaceful place and then focuses on different physical sensations, moving from the feet to the head. For example, one might focus on warmth and heaviness in the limbs, easy, natural breathing, or a calm heartbeat.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

This technique involves slowly tensing and then releasing each muscle group individually, starting with the muscles in the toes and finishing with those in the head.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is one of the best ways to relieve stress for children: 

  1. Ask your child to sit or lie down in a comfortable position. He may even close his eyes.
  2. Starting with the face, ask him to tense and relax the muscles in different parts of his body alternately.
  3. Encourage your child to notice how rejuvenated his mind and body feels after following this simple technique.


The two most popular forms of meditation include Transcendental Meditation (individuals repeat a mantra — a single word or phrase) and Mindfulness Meditation (individuals focus their attention on their thoughts and sensations).

Guided Imagery

Similar to autogenic training, guided imagery involves listening to a trained therapist or a guided imagery CD to move into a state of deep relaxation.  Once in a relaxed state, the images that come up in your mind can help you uncover important realizations about your emotional, spiritual, and physical health.


In self-hypnosis programs, people are taught to produce the relaxation response when prompted by a phrase or nonverbal cue (called a “suggestion”).

😊 🌺 Breath Meditation for Kids 😊 ❤️‍‍ Mindfulness for Kids
Published on Feb 13, 2016

A calming breath meditation designed to introduce kids to mindfulness. Kids imagine a sail boat rising and falling over waves as they inhale and exhale. They use mental imagery to see their breath as color as they observe the sensation of it passing through the nostrils. Finally the cultivate beginners mind imagining they were once a fish and are feeling air in their lungs for the first time.

Here are some easy relaxation techniques that work very well for Children with cancer:

The Spaghetti Test

This exercise teaches children what relaxation is. Have you ever seen uncooked spaghetti? It is very stiff and inflexible. But what happens if you cook it? It becomes soft and flexible! If you lift it, it will move in any direction you will want it to. And that’s what you want your legs and arms to be able to do when you relax.

Divide the children into groups of two and have one partner be like cooked spaghetti, while the other will be the Italian chef who will check if the spaghetti is done. The chef will lift one spaghetti arm or leg at a time, and will very gently check if the pasta is “soft” by wiggling it a bit and even letting it drop to see if the spaghetti will relax or resist.

The spaghetti partner should just pretend to be asleep and not help the chef lift up his arms or legs nor resist. When they are sure that the spaghetti is ready, they can switch roles.

Third-Eye Yoga Diamond

Get the children to lie down with their eyes closed and then place a small stone (or a glass pebble, or you can even use a crystal) on their foreheads.

Tell them that with this special yoga diamond they can talk to and understand animal language, that they can see the past or the future, that they’ll be able to read thoughts, or that the yoga diamond will give them the ability to fly… you can decide which theme to use, or use different ones each time.

The magic of the yoga diamond will work only as long as it’s on their forehead; if the diamond falls, the magic breaks. This exercise is meant to teach them stillness – to lie motionless – and helps them to focus on the relaxation.

Tibetan Medicine Bowl

Tibetan Medicine Bowl are a magical tool for focusing, relaxing and healing!

The children love this exercise and really look forward to it, and even two-year-olds will wait quietly for the magic bowl to visit them.

To use the bowl, simply place it on the student’s heart or belly and tap the side of the bowl gently with the playing stick.

Wow! Children love the fact that they can feel the music/vibrations all over their body!

Escalator Breath

Because children depend on each other in this relaxation pose, they tend to still for longer. In this exercise, they lie with their head on the belly of the friend in front of them and breathe deeply. By doing this some of the children will feel how they lift and lower their friend’s head with their belly as they breathe and the others will feel how their heads lift and fall as their friends breathe in and out.

Closing their eyes and listening and feeling the breath moving like waves, helps the children to  go deeper and deeper into the relaxation.


Reflexology and other kinds of massage can be even more relaxing. You don’t need to be a professional – just follow your heart and your hands and make it pleasant. If you massage the children too lightly, it will tickle them — so use firm, yet gentle touch. For extra fun, use foot or hand creams that smell good for kids, like strawberry or banana!

Make sure with the doctor that the child can be massaged (depending on the type of cancer), and that they have no allergies.

Burrito / Sushi / Mummy

Guide the children to lie down sideways and close to the front edge of their yoga mats.

Ask them to hold onto the edge of the mat with one hand, keeping their other arm beside their body.

Ask them to roll toward the long part of the mat and let themselves be wrapped by it.

Ask them to close their eyes and rest.

For most kids, being covered can really help to relax. This extra weight on the body truly helps them to stop fidgeting.


If kids are fidgety at the end of guided imagery, use counting to help them stay there for a few more breaths. They can each count silently 10 to 20 breaths for themselves before they get up, or you can count aloud for all of them.

You can also say “I will count down from 10 to 1. Only when I reach 1 you can stretch and slowly sit up. 10, 9, 8… 1.” Count very slowly!

Still Water

The children lie completely still on the floor. If someone moves, they have to step over to the side. In this game we invite the action of stillness rather than saying “don’t move” which makes it more fun and more effective!


Just before the children lie down and relax, they can make and drink some lemonade in this way: they must sit hugging their knees to their chest and balancing on their bottom then squeeze the lemon really hard, making a super sour face.

Tell them to squeeze their body into the smallest lemon ever and then let the lemon burst as their hands and legs fly out to the sides and they roll to lie on their backs

Side Effects or Risks

There are no negative side-effects to any of the relaxation techniques mentioned. Relaxation techniques are safe.

Relaxation techniques are generally considered safe for healthy people, although there have been a few reports of unpleasant experiences such as increased anxiety. People with serious physical or mental health problems should discuss relaxation techniques with their health care providers.

Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.


Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use.

LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.

Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.