Autogenic Training: A Surprisingly Effective Relaxation Technique

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Last updated April 11, 2022.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

Autogenic training is a little-known relaxation technique that’s effective for a variety of stress-related conditions. Learn how it works and how you can do it.

Chronic stress is a serious health problem.

It puts you at risk for physical health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

And it’s quite detrimental to the brain and your mental health, contributing to everything from brain fog and ADHD to anxiety and dementia.

Stress interferes with judgment, causing bad decisions when pressure feels overwhelming.

By inhibiting the formation of new brain cells, chronic stress actually causes the brain to shrink!

While you can’t live life stress-free, you can learn to change your response to stress.

Autogenic training is a simple, but powerful, stress management technique that can mitigate the serious effects of chronic stress.

What Is Autogenic Training?

Autogenic training, also called autogenics or simply AT, is a mind-body healing technique that’s been around for 80 years.

Autogenic means “self-generated” or “self-regulated.”

Autogenic training teaches the body to respond to your commands.

This allows you to gain control over bodily functions that you normally have no control over, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, body temperature, and breathing.

It’s not completely understood how autogenic training works, but it’s considered a form of self-hypnosis

All forms of hypnosis work by inducing a trance-like state during which you become more open to suggestion than usual.

Electroencephalography (EEG) can be used to measure brainwave state changes that occur during self-hypnosis. 

During autogenic training, brainwaves drop to the lower-frequency theta state — the same state you experience just as you fall asleep, or during deep meditation.

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How Autogenic Training Calms the Nervous System

One thing that makes autogenic training unique is that, unlike many other relaxation techniques, it works directly on the parasympathetic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing.

The ANS is divided into two main branches, the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

Normally the parasympathetic nervous system is in control.

It’s our rest-and-digest system.

But when we’re under stress, the sympathetic nervous system takes over.

This induces the flight-or-fight state that you probably know all too well.

Regularly practicing autogenic training brings the activity of the two branches into a better balance by calming down the overactive stress response.

illustration comparing parasympathetic and sympathic nervous systems
Comparison of the actions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. (Image courtesy of Traumatology Institute)

Benefits and Uses of Autogenic Training

Autogenic training is so simple that you might think that it can’t be that effective, but that would be selling it short.

Autogenics is very effective for stress reduction, but it can do even more than that.

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Dozens of studies have confirmed that relaxation therapies are particularly useful for treating anxiety disorders of all kinds, and when compared to other techniques, autogenic training is rated among the best

" Autogenic training is a “secret advantage” used by peak performance seekers such as Olympic and professional athletes, military personnel, pilots, and NASA astronauts.

By helping you control your heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing, autogenic training can help many kinds of physical and mental health conditions.

When researchers analyzed the results of 60 studies on autogenic training, they deemed it beneficial for these conditions: 

  • asthma
  • depression
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • irregular heartbeat
  • migraines
  • pain disorders
  • racing heart
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • sleep disorders
  • tension headaches

Science.gov lists over 100 studies that have examined the potential benefits of autogenic training for a wide array of conditions including cancer, depression, vertigo, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, panic disorder, diabetes, scleroderma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Parkinson’s disease. 

Autogenics for Peak Performance

Considering how easy and effective autogenic training is, it’s surprising that it’s not more popular with the general public.

But it is a “secret advantage” used by peak performance seekers such as Olympians, professional athletes, military personnel, pilots, and astronauts

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NASA developed and patented a hybrid process that combines both autogenic training and biofeedback and called it Autogenic-Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE). 

AFTE is used to maximize pilot and crew performance and minimize the extreme environmental and psychological stress experienced in space.

It excels at alleviating the motion sickness that affects a surprising number of pilots and astronauts, and works even better than a popular prescription motion sickness drug. 

Autogenics During Pregnancy

Many natural remedies for anxiety are restricted for use by pregnant women.

But autogenic training has specifically been proven safe and effective for pregnant women

It can help relieve anxiety and depression during pregnancy, delivery, and during the postpartum period after birth.

How to Do Autogenic Training

Autogenic training is easy and can be done anywhere, anytime.

It doesn’t require special equipment and a session can be done in less than 10 minutes.

How to Do an Autogenic Training Session

First, sit or lie down in a comfortable position someplace where you won’t be disturbed.

Uncross your legs and relax your arms at your sides.

Take a few slow, deep breaths, then slowly say to yourself the following statements.

Repeat each one 3 to 6 times.

Visualize the experience of each sensation as you proceed.

Follow this sample autogenic training script:

1. My arms are heavy. My left arm is heavy. My right arm is heavy. Both of my arms are heavy.

2. My legs are heavy. My left leg is heavy. My right leg is heavy. Both of my legs are heavy.

3. My arms are warm. My left arm is warm. My right arm is warm. Both of my arms are warm.

4. My legs are warm. My left leg is warm. My right leg is warm. Both of my legs are warm.

5. My heartbeat is calm and regular.

6. My breathing is calm and regular.

7. My abdomen is warm.

8. My forehead is cool.

When you’re done, take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes.

STAY INFORMED!

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Comparing Autogenic Training to Other Stress Management Techniques

On the surface, autogenic training appears similar to meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and neurofeedback.

But there are subtle differences between each of these techniques.

During meditation, you typically focus on your breath, while during autogenic training, you focus on various areas of the body.

During progressive muscle relaxation, the focus is on relaxing your muscles, not on bodily functions like heart rate and blood pressure.

Both autogenic training and neurofeedback train the conscious mind to change functions normally controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

But autogenic training doesn’t require the use of biofeedback devices to tell you when you’ve achieved the desired effect.

Where to Find Free Guided Autogenic Training Lessons

I highly recommend listening to a guided autogenic training lesson to get started.

This will help you feel confident that you are doing it right. 

Several universities offer free autogenic training MP3s:

You’ll find that autogenic training does not take much time.

All of these sessions are between 5 and 15 minutes long and can be downloaded for later use.

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Tips for Getting the Most From Autogenic Training

While AT is very simple, use these tips to get the most out of it:

  • For best results, do your autogenic training exercises 3 times per day regularly.
  • While you may feel more relaxed after just one session, expect it will take a few months of regular practice to experience the full benefits.
  • Autogenics works better for some people when they listen to the sound of their own voice. You can record your own guided session using the script provided above.

Safety and Cautions

Autogenic training is an extremely safe technique that can be used by almost anyone, with these few exceptions.

It is not recommended for children under 5 years old.

If you are using autogenic training to address a medical problem, talk to your doctor before getting started since AT can affect your need for medication.

Autogenics is so good at lowering high blood pressure, for example, that it may reduce your need for medication.

People with severe mental or emotional disorders should not attempt autogenic training on their own as it can sometimes lead to an increase in anxiety or restlessness.

They should use it under the supervision of a professional AT instructor.

Finding a Qualified Autogenic Training Therapist

If you aren’t getting the results you’re looking for or have a known mental health condition, you may benefit from working with a qualified autogenic training therapist.

But finding one is not that easy.

In the US, you can do a search for an autogenic training therapist in your area at GoodTherapy.org.

First, enter your zip code or city.

Next, look at “Type of Therapy” under “Filters.”

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There you’ll find many types of therapy to choose from, including autogenic training.

If you are in the United Kingdom, look for a therapist at the British Autogenic Society.

In Australia, contact the Autogenic Training Institute.

Autogenic Training: Take the Next Step

Autogenic training is a little-known relaxation technique that works by helping you gain control of your autonomic nervous system.

With regular practice, you can learn to alter involuntary bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing.

Autogenic training helps balance the rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) and flight-or-fight (sympathetic) nervous systems.

It’s one of the simplest and safest ways to combat chronic stress.

AT also has many proven mental and physical health benefits that go beyond stress reduction, including achieving peak performance.

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