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 killer.
It puts you at risk for physical health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
It’s particularly detrimental to your brain and your mental health, contributing to everything from brain fog and ADHD to anxiety and dementia.
Stress can seize up your brain at the worst possible times.
Who hasn’t “choked” or had a psychological “brain freeze” during an exam, job interview, or when giving a speech?
Stress interferes with judgment, causing you to make bad decisions when the pressure is on.
By inhibiting the formation of new brain cells, stress actually causes your brain to shrink!
While you can’t arrange your life to be completely stress-free, you can learn to change your response to stress.
Autogenic training is a simple, but powerful, stress management technique that can help you improve your physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life.
It’s used by world-class athletes, NASA astronauts, and others seeking peak performance yet, surprisingly, few people have heard of it.
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 your body to respond to your commands.
You use it to gain control over body functions that you normally have no control over, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, body temperature, and breathing.
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. (2)
During autogenic training, brain waves 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 Autogenics Calms Your Nervous System
One thing that makes autogenics unique is that, unlike many other relaxation techniques, it works directly on your parasympathetic nervous system.
Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls involuntary body 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 your rest-and-digest system.
But when you’re under stress, the sympathetic nervous system takes over.
This induces the flight-or-fight state that you probably know all too well.
A regular practice of autogenic training brings the activity of the two branches into an optimal balance by calming down your overactive stress response.
Benefits and Uses of Autogenic Training
Autogenic training is so simple that you might be tempted to think it can’t be that effective.
But that would be selling it short.
Autogenics is very effective for stress reduction, and it can do much more than that.
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. (3)
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: (4)
- heart disease
- irregular heartbeat
- 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. (5)
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Autogenics for Peak Performance
Considering how easy and effective autogenic training is, it’s surprising it’s not more popular with the general public.
NASA developed and patented a hybrid process that combines the use of both autogenic training and biofeedback — Autogenic-Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE). (8)
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. (9)
Autogenics During Pregnancy
Many natural remedies for anxiety caution that they should not be used by pregnant women.
But autogenic training has specifically been proven safe for pregnant women. (10)
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 Autogenics 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 say to yourself the following statements slowly.
Repeat each 3 to 6 times.
Visualize experiencing each sensation as you proceed.
Follow this sample autogenics 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 are done, take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes.
Autogenics Compared 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 practices.
During meditation, you typically focus on your breath, while during autogenic training, you focus on different areas of the body.
During progressive muscle relaxation, the focus is on relaxing your muscles, not on body functions like heart rate and blood pressure.
Both autogenic training and neurofeedback train the conscious mind to change body 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.
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Where to Find Free Guided Autogenic Training Lessons
I highly recommend listening to a guided autogenic training lesson to get started.
Several universities offer free autogenic training MP3s:
All lessons are about 5 to 8 minutes long.
You can listen to them now or download for later.
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 autogenics exercise 3 times per day regularly.
- While you may feel more relaxed after just one session, the full health benefits won’t really kick in until after a few months of regular practice.
- 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.
- Some people feel more anxious when they first begin autogenic training. If this happens, warm up with progressive muscle relaxation first. You’ll find instructions for this in How to Relax Your Muscles to Ease Stress and Anxiety.
Autogenic Training Safety and Cautions
Autogenic training is an extremely safe technique that can be used by almost anyone, with these few exceptions.
Autogenic training is not recommended for children under 5 years old.
If you are using it to address a medical problem, talk to your doctor before getting started since it can affect your need for medication.
It’s 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 lead to an increase in anxiety or restlessness.
They should use it under the supervision of a professional instructor.
Finding an Autogenics Therapist
If you aren’t getting the results you’re looking, you may benefit from working with a qualified autogenic training therapist.
But finding one is not that easy.
There’s no worldwide autogenic therapist directory.
In the United States, 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.”
There you’ll find many types of therapy to choose from, including autogenic training.
If you are in the United Kingdom, you can look for a therapist at the British Autogenic Society.
In Australia, you can 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 body functions like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing.
It helps you balance your rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) and your flight-or-fight (sympathetic) nervous systems.
It’s one of the simplest and safest ways to combat stress.
It has many proven health and mental health benefits that go far beyond stress reduction, including achieving peak performance.