Autogenic training is a relaxation technique involving a series of physical exercises. Developed by German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in 1932, it involves around three daily sessions of about 15 minutes each. These can be either sitting down or lying in a number of different postures, during which the practitioner will repeat sets of visualisations. The aim is to achieve deep relaxation and reduce stress by regulating the autonomic nervous system through breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat and body temperature control. Many of the techniques mirror yoga and meditation, and can be used to relieve stress-induced psychosomatic illness.
The autogenic training therapy was first developed by Johannes Schultz, who was German psychiatrist, and aimed to create a system whereby the organs could be controlled to prevent certain physiological reactions to stress. In theory, the training allows the practitioner to be fully relaxed at any time they wish, however it has been credited with doing far more than this. In calming the mind, autogenic therapy is believed to be effective in treating depression and other emotional or psychological illnesses, as well as decreasing nervousness and boosting confidence, improving physical health and also mental focus. Practitioners are told to sit comfortably and focus on different areas of their body. As they focus on different limbs and organs, the practitioner repeats positive affirmations related to enjoying good health.
As autogenic training does not require any special clothing or equipment, it is quite simple to do, and for this reason has become quite popular in the Western world Ð particularly among business people and others with high stress careers. It is not a form of meditation guided by a spiritual goal, and is therefore fairly widely accepted.
Autogenic training is aimed at balancing the parasympathetic (resting) and the sympathetic (fight or flight response) branches of the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for slowing the heart-rate, aiding digestive functions, lowering blood pressure, and improving the immune system. By encouraging natural processes of healing, the training is believed to help with mental health problems as well as general physical well being. It aims to take methods from various forms of meditation and reduce them to a functional everyday mental workout. In addition to reducing stress, autogenic is credited with reducing symptoms of asthma, constipation and diarrhoea, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, headaches, poor circulation, hyperventilation, thyroid problems and irregular heartbeats.
When practitioners begin autogenic exercises, they are instructed by a trainer, but are encouraged to practise the methods anywhere in everyday life. Meditation is encouraged to be based around colours, objects and notions such as love, but really it becomes personal preference based around what the practitioner deems most relaxing.
The first stage of the exercises is a series of six that are carried out three or four times a week. These sessions begin with simple meditation, where the subject is encouraged not to think in words but rather merely abstractly look inward and make picture correspond with certain physical sensations. Thus, when the subject thinks something is happening to their body, they also begin to feel it, for example: their shoulders feeling heavy. Eventually, this practise is expanded upon, and more exercises are added, which increase in complexity. The final four exercises focus on gaining a command of the rate of the subject’s heartbeat, breathing, inner organs and the mind. These are the most difficult to master, however are believed to be most influential in physical health. In order to come out of the state of relaxation intended to be induced by autogenic therapy, the practitioner counts backward from ten, with each number making them more and more aware of their surroundings.