What is autogenic training?

Autogenic training is a mind-body strategy to combat stress. It requires you to focus on the feeling of your own breathing or heartbeat and imagine your body as warm, heavy, and/or relaxed. First, without judging, you concentrate on how warm or cool your hands are. Then, you imagine warmth in your hands and feet until you feel the sensations really happen.

How autogenic training relieves stress

When you experience even mild stress, your blood usually moves from your extremities to your core. This powerful survival mechanism helps you mobilize by getting blood to the muscles that need it. If someone loses a limb, for example, blood moving from their extremities to their core reduces their chance of bleeding to death. But any kind of stress (not just the kind associated with survival) can trigger this mechanism. Experts suggest stress can cool your hands and feet several degrees lower than when you’re experiencing positive feelings.

It takes practice to develop this skill, but listening to a live or recorded script that illustrates the relaxed feelings of warmth and heaviness in your hands and feet can help. As you practice, you essentially get better at asking your body to turn off its stress response by opening up blood vessels, reducing blood pressure, and letting blood flow more easily.

What are the effects of autogenic training?

There’s promising support for using the autogenic training to help relieve many conditions, including post-traumatic stress symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome, coronary heart disease, and even to enhance lung capacity. Autogenic training has been found to help with some stress- and circulatory-related issues, such as hypertension, chronic headaches, mental stress associated with heart disease, pain disorders, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. And there’s some evidence that, when combined with mental imagery, autogenic training can be a useful tool for enhancing athletic skills.

Try it!

The word “autogenic” actually means you can learn to do this on your own. HPRC has created an autogenic training recording below that takes you through this skill. Try using this recording once a day and track your progress by noticing how your body responds. If you want to systematically monitor your training progress, you can measure change in skin temperature from before and after each session. You can buy a relatively accurate stress thermometer online for about $20.

Autogenic training is just one of many possible relaxation response techniques. Check out the HPRC Mental Fitness section to learn more about how to make stress good for you.


Note: Autogenic training is not a replacement for medical treatment or advice.


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References

Kanji, N., White, A. R., & Ernst, E. (2006). Autogenic training for tension type headaches: A systematic review of controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 14(2), 144–150. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2006.03.001

Pagnini, F., Phillips, D., Bercovitz, K., & Langer, E. (2019). Mindfulness and relaxation training for long duration spaceflight: Evidences from analog environments and military settings. Acta Astronautica, 165, 1–8. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2019.07.036

Stetter, F., & Kupper, S. (2002). Autogenic training: A meta-analysis of clinical outcome studies. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 27(1), 45–98. doi:10.1023/a:1014576505223