What is Autogenic Training and how to practice it

Vitawell combines Mindful Relaxation with Autogenic Training

  • What is Autogenic Training?

  • How effective is this relaxation technique?

  • Discover how to practice Autogenic Training

  • How often should we practice Mindful Relaxation & Autogenic Training to benefit most?

Trying to relax can be hard. But like anything else, with training everything gets easier. Training to relax…? Yes – we can train to deeply relax our body and de-stress our mind.

Practicing Autogenic Training can help us with this as it promotes calmness and serenity. Autogenic Training is a relaxation technique and a form of self-hypnosis. It is a mental exercise with six-steps that when practiced daily have a proven effect on our physical and psychological health.

Tackling tension and stress, mood swings, anxiety and getting our focus back are just some of the advantages of learning autogenic training. You can read more about other benefits and how to achieve them in the paragraph below.

What is Autogenic Training?

Autogenic Training is a focussed and mindful relaxation that calms and balances the nervous system, promotes the release of muscle tension and improves the ability to concentrate[1]. This kind of mindful relaxation is a proven tool to modulate the (autonomic) nervous system.

The name ‘Autogenic’ derives from the Greek word ‘auto’ and the Latin word ‘genere’. It means to generate relaxation automatically or to generate relaxation from within by self-acting.

In the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz worked with hypnosis as a part of his approach to therapy and treatment. With the use of regular hypnosis, his patients entered a state of deep relaxation and the hypnosis supported therapeutic modulations of certain nervous functions.

A few years later, in 1926, Schultz began to research the effects of his hypnosis and reversed the process. Instead of feeling the muscles relaxing as a result of being hypnotized, his patients were guided to mindfully and actively relax and therefore induce a kind of self-hypnosis.

Schultz refined this method of self-hypnosis over the years and the Autogenic Training was born. He published his first book on Autogenic Training in 1932[2].

Autogenic training has a long tradition in German-speaking countries in therapeutic practice and in self-healthcare. It is taught as a simple yet effective relaxation technique. It works with affirmations and visualizations that have a beneficial long-term effect on the nervous system.

Positive Affirmation

The affirmations we use are encouraging sentences and positive phrases that we either speak out loud or repeat silently in our mind.

Sentences such as “I am calm and relaxed” or “My breathing is free and steady” focus the mind on tranquillity and serenity.

In this state of deep and blissful relaxation, our body and mind are more flexible to work with the affirmations, and easily integrate the positive encouragement.

Positive Visualization

The visualizations we use in autogenic training reach from mindful body scans to imaginary healing journeys that take us into various landscapes. During a “mindful body scan” we focus our attention on each part, organ or function of the body. Visualizing and mindfully relaxing the body increases the body’s awareness.
Imaginary journeys unfold a soothing effect on the body and lead us into a state of blissful relaxation.
This segment of Autogenic Training is explained in more detail below.

How effective is Autogenic Training?

It is possible to develop a better sense for our complex inner processes with just a few sessions of autogenic training.
From there, it is an easy step towards having a healthy effect or even having more “control” over our physical and nervous reactions to tension, stress or fear.

Latest research has proven the relaxing, soothing and healing effects of being in nature or visualizing different nature sceneries[3].
Scientists at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo study the health effect of “inhaling the atmosphere of the woods” (Shinrin-yoku) and of the therapeutic use of pictures of nature in hospital settings.
Autogenic training provides more control over our tensions, stress or fear.
They concluded that a significant positive modulation of the immune system, prevention of cancer and reduction of stress hormones occurs when we are exposed to nature or visualization thereof[4]. We make use of this advantage when we imagine traveling through natural, healing landscapes.

Even the busiest mind can quickly focus and calm down during the visualizations.

What are the benefits of Autogenic Training?

Practicing autogenic training teaches us to release tension and manage stress mindfully and more effectively. We learn how to induce a state of deep relaxation by repetition of certain phrases and by using visualisation techniques.

Certain functions of the autonomic nervous system (muscle tone, heartbeat, breathing, etc) are commonly thought to be involuntary. However, these functions naturally change during a deep relaxation or (self-) hypnosis.

By self-hypnosis or inducing deep relaxation in the autogenic training, it is possible to voluntarily and mindfully modulate body functions including:

  • muscle tone, which results in body relaxation

  • dilation (widening) of blood vessels, resulting in a warm sensation in the muscles of arms and legs

  • regulation of an adequate heart rate that has a calming effect

  • deeper and slower breathing which focuses the mind

  • increased body awareness supporting self-healthcare

The proper practice of Autogenic Training is likely to include these benefits:

Disease prevention and support for stress-induced diseases

Even though stress impacts the entire body and its functions, it is not always easy to recognize stress-induced diseases. Taking time to mindfully relax is an effective healthcare and can help with or prevent stress-induced diseases such as

  • Headaches

  • Migraines

  • Gastrointestinal problems (e.g. IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease)

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Exhaustion

  • Sleeping difficulties

  • Insomnia

  • Many more ailments that can be caused, triggered and worsened by stress.

When there is no time to calm down and relax, the nervous system is in a prolonged or continuous sympathetic state. That is when adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones hinder a healthy metabolism, raise the blood pressure and keep us awake at night.

Being in a constant fight-or-flight mode builds up tension and depletes energy. Autogenic training activates the restorative part of the nervous system that establishes a healthy balance in busy or distressing phases.

SUMMARY – Autogenic training can prevent and help with diseases that are stress induced, such as headaches and migraines, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure and others.

Blissful relaxation

Just as there is a need for a healthy balance between waking and sleeping, there is a vital need for a balance between work, play and relaxation!

Autogenic training switches on the relaxation mode of the autonomic nervous system. It is called the restorative parasympathetic system. When this part is activated, we are in a state of “rest and digest” instead of “fight-or-flight”.

SUMMARY – Autogenic training switches on the relaxation mode of the autonomic nervous system, called the restorative parasympathetic system. Once activated, we are in a state of “rest and digest”.

Reduction of stress hormones

The activation of the restorative part of the nervous system promotes a healthy hormone balance. Stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are reduced. Instead endorphins, neurotransmitters and “happy hormones” are increased.

SUMMARY – Autogenic Training assists with regulation and healthy balance of adrenaline and cortisol.

Healthier digestion and better nutrient absorption

When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, digestive organs function most effectively. Digestive juices and hormones are released, whereas stress hormones – that inhibit a healthy digestion – are reduced.

SUMMARY – Only in the state of “rest and digest” do we properly metabolize, assimilate and absorb vital nutrients.

Cellular repair, detox and healing processes

Daily processes of cellular repair, tissue healing, detoxification, disposal of debris and metabolic waste require the restorative/parasympathetic mode of the nervous system. 

Furthermore, autogenic training improves blood circulation that is necessary for waste removal from the cells and organs, leaving the body detoxified.

SUMMARY – Autogenic training improves blood circulation necessary for detox, tissue repair and healing.

Better blood and energy circulation

Dilation of the blood vessels and relaxation of the muscles increase the blood flow. This results in an improved circulation of oxygen, nutrients and energy to the body’s cells. 

During mindful relaxation the energy stores are recharged and blocked energy (in the form of muscle tension) is released. A healthy energy and blood circulation as well as better body awareness increase vitality.

SUMMARY – Mindful relaxation promotes blood flow and raises energy levels.

Improvement of tension and pain

Autogenic training is designed to soften and relax the muscles and therefore reduce muscle tension. The widened blood vessels provide more nutrients and oxygen for the tissue and remove waste, lactic acid and toxins. This helps to ease sore muscles and pain.

SUMMARY – Autogenic training relaxes the muscles, hence reducing muscle tension.

Effective stress management and increased resistance

Autogenic Training and the practice of mindful relaxation improve our response to distressing situations and stressors in life. Stress can hardly be avoided in modern times, but we can change our reaction to it!

Regular practice of mindful relaxation increases the resilience to stress. Due to the training effect, the autonomic nervous system is modulated so that there is a better balance between the sympathetic “fight-or-flight” state and the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state.

SUMMARY – Autogenic training and mindful relaxation improve our response to distressing situations and stressors. Regular practice increases the resilience to stress.

Cardiovascular health

Autogenic Training promotes a healthy heart rate and regulates blood pressure. We can mindfully practice to strengthen, calm and steady the heartbeat.

SUMMARY – Autogenic Training helps the prevention and improvement of cardiovascular disease.

Deeper and calmer breathing

Autogenic training uses the breath to modulate the nervous system, to promote a healthy hormone balance and to enrich the body with oxygen and energy

Breathing bridges body and mind. With the right breathing technique, the body relaxes and the mind calms down. Negative emotions, worries and anxiety can be transformed.

SUMMARY – Through breathing, we can modulate the nervous system and promote a healthy hormone balance.

Improved sleep quality and help for insomnia

Autogenic training can break through the cycle of worries, anxiety, mood swings, stress hormones, pain and body tension which can be the cause of bad sleep or the results of sleeping problems.

Difficult sleep has an ill effect on the mind and mood, stress resilience, hormone levels and the overall body’s wellbeing.

Autogenic training induces the necessary relaxation to improve the sleep quality.

A Portuguese study on the impact of relaxation and autogenic training on insomnia, has found satisfying improvement in sleep patterns and the performance of daily tasks. Patients who participated in the research study report an improvement in mood, vigor, self-esteem and self-control.[5]

SUMMARY – Autogenic training induces the necessary relaxation to improve the sleep quality.

Clear, calm and focussed mind

With practice, we will learn how to effectively relax, keep calm and focus the mind in our everyday lives. The mind – just like any other muscle – can be trained to concentrate on tranquility, serenity and a positive perspective.

SUMMARY – By practicing autogenic training, we can relax, keep calm and focus the mind.

Synchronization of brain hemispheres

The practice of autogenic training synchronizes the right and left hemisphere of the brain. It measurably alters the brain’s activity and frequency resulting in:

  • Increased brain efficiency

  • Advanced creativity

  • Easier focus and improved concentration

  • Better memory

  • More mental clarity[6,7]

SUMMARY – The practice of autogenic training alters the brain’s activity and frequency resulting in increased brain efficiency, better concentration and mental clarity.

Read more on Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance.

Autogenic Training reviews and feedback

The feedback I receive from practitioners of Autogenic Training and Mindful Relaxation is that they:

  • Feel more centred and balanced

  • Notice lasting tranquillity and serenity

  • Improved temperature regulation of the body

  • Calm and relaxed in everyday life

  • Greater sense of wellbeing

  • More energy and better mood

  • Improvement over physical ailments and anxiety

How to practice Autogenic Training

Autogenic Training is a relaxation technique that works best when lying down or sitting comfortably. However, it can be practiced almost anywhere and at any time, even while standing or moving.

Moreover, it is possible to regularly practice a full session when finding yourself in a demanding, challenging or distressing situation.

The Six Steps of Autogenic Training

The complete session consists of six steps that address certain functions of the autonomic nervous system respectively.

These steps are focussing on:

  • Muscle tone and muscle relaxation

  • Body temperature regulation

  • Steady and calm breathing

  • Restoring and circulating energy in the body

  • Healthy and adequate heart rate, higher heart rate variability

  • Clear and focussed mind

The trainee takes these six steps by repeating affirmations and by using visualizations. These affirmations are sentences that can be repeated silently or spoken out loud. The practice can also be complemented by setting a personal intention and resolution.

Holistic Relaxation Training (additional information)

In my Mindful Relaxation Guidance, I initiate the Autogenic Training session with Progressive Muscle Relaxation according to Edmund Jacobson[8]. It is a wonderful transition from activity to relaxation and prepares the body well for the Autogenic Training.

This is often followed by a body scan with which we can raise the healthy body awareness and mindfully relax each part of our body.

The six steps of the Autogenic Training are effectively completed by creative imaginary journeys. With the help of these healing journeys into soothing landscapes, tension, stress, anxiety and negative emotions can be transformed into a positive mood and blissful relaxation.

How often should we practice Autogenic Training?

Just like with any other training, we get the best results by regular practice. When we learn the Six Steps of Autogenic Training, a single relaxation session can be as short as ten minutes.

However, the initial phase of building up the complete technique can be combined with relaxing imaginary journeys. So, initially we can choose to keep it short and train more frequently or to indulge in a relaxation for up to one hour.

For best benefits, daily training for up to two weeks until the technique of the Autogenic Training is completely explored has proven most effective.

After that, for most trainees the ability to induce relaxation and find inner tranquillity becomes second nature. Once the art of relaxation is mastered, the full sessions can be enjoyed as often as we wish and the immersion into blissful serenity will slowly become “addictive”.

The single parts of autogenic training can also be integrated into everyday life activities without taking extra time.

Frequent practice increases the feeling of inner calm.

Autogenic training can be your precious me-time, your everyday retreat for more joy in life!

Take a moment now and indulge in a blissful journey with me to relax fully and deeply. Enjoy this audio session of Autogenic Training combined with a creative visualization: Mindful Relaxation Journey to the Beach.

If you wish to learn more about our Mindful Relaxation audio course, please visit Vitawell – Mindful Relaxation & Autogenic Training course

If you liked the article, please email us your comments. Most importantly, please share it, especially if you think that someone might need a bit more information about Autogenic Training and how to start practicing it.

More than two decades ago, Tina followed her calling and became a registered Naturopath (“Heilpraktiker”) & Classical Homeopath in her home country Germany. She shares with a caring enthusiasm her expertise in holistic health and alternative medicine (internationally). In her practice, she guides people on their journey to better health by supporting their inner healing ability with Herbal & Functional Medicine, Homeopathy, Nutrition Advice, Detox & Fasting Therapy, Reflexology, Therapeutic Yoga, Relaxation, Ear Acupuncture, Reiki, Thai Massage and Systemic/Family Constellation Therapy. Tina offers a variety of retreats, workshops and courses as well as health consultations.

References

(1) Schultz, Prof. J. H. (2000). Autogenes Training – Das Original Übungsbuch. Trias. (Autogenic Training – The Original Exercise Book. Originally in German)

(2) Schultz, Prof. J. H. (1932). Das Autogene Training (konzentrative Selbstentspannung). Versuch einer klinisch-praktischen Darstellung. Thieme. (The Autogenic Training (concentrated self-relaxation). Essay of a clinical-practical presentation. Originally in German)

(3) Arvay, Clemens G. (2016). Der Biophilia Effekt. edition a. (The Biophilia Effect. Originally in German)

(4) Bum-Jin Park et all. (2013). Forest Medicine. Nova Biomedical. 

(5) Pinheiro M., Mendes D., Pais J., Carvalho N., Cabral T. (2015). Sleep Quality – Impact of Relaxation Techniques and Autogenic Training in Patients Diagnosed with Insomnia. European Psychiatry. Elsevier. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924933815313730

(6) Dae-Keun, K.;  Jyoo-Hi, R.; Seung Wan, K. (2013). Reorganization of the brain and heart rhythm during autogenic meditation. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259879181_Reorganization_of_the_Brain_and_Heart_Rhythm_During_Autogenic_Meditation

(7) Oschman, James L. (2003). Energy Medicine in Therapeutics and Human Performance. Elsevier Science. https://pdfslide.net/documents/james-l-oschman-energy-medicine-in-therapeutics-and-human-performancepdf.html

(8) Mirgain, S. A., & Singles, J. (2021). Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/tools/progressive-muscle-relaxation.asp