This technique trains the mind to control the autonomic nervous system (ANS) – the system involved in regulating involuntary functions such as breathing, heartbeat, and digestion. Autogenic training is a safe and effective method for managing stress and anxiety. Professional athletes, pilots, and military personnel also use it to prevent stress and ensure peak performance.
A study published in the Journal of Psychomatic Research highlighted the effectiveness of autogenic training in reducing stress. The researchers worked with women whose infertility issues were related to emotional stress. After doing autogenic training for four months, the participants showed a decrease in their anxiety scores in four psychological tests. They also had significantly lower prolactin levels in their blood. Prolactin is a hormone that, when present in high concentrations in the blood, can cause infertility in women. These results indicated that autogenic training is effective at reducing stress.
German researchers also reported that autogenic training greatly improves mental health. In their meta-analysis which appeared in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, they compiled 60 studies that looked into the effectiveness of autogenic training in treating various disorders. They found that it had more impact on the emotional – rather than the physical – well-being of patients. Autogenic training improved their mood, quality of life, and cognitive performance, among other things. There were also several reports of it helping people with anxiety, suggesting that autogenic training can help with emotional and psychological issues.
Autogenic training was invented by a German psychiatrist named Johannes Heinrich Schultz who studied hypnosis. He observed that, when hypnotized, patients enter a relaxed state which lets them experience feelings of warmth and heaviness, and leaves them open to suggestions at the same time. This state is what autogenic training aims to recreate in people. During training, people are asked to repeat statements such as "My arms are heavy" or "My legs are warm" many times – a practice that makes it a kind of self-hypnosis. When the desired state is achieved, people are then asked to repeat the statement "I am completely calm" several times to achieve complete relaxation. While in this relaxed state, they are encouraged to focus on things such as breathing or their heart rate and other sensations in different parts of their body. When practiced often, it is believed that a single verbal suggestion could enable a person to control certain internal functions like their heartbeat or their blood circulation. (Related: Relaxation and Meditation are Just as Crucial to Health as Diet and Exercise.)
Autogenic training doesn't require the use of any equipment. All that is needed is a quiet place where a person can recline in a chair or lie on the floor. An audio recording of verbal cues can also be used for better concentration. Depending on preference, a person can choose to do autogenic training with a specialist or alone.
Autogenic training works by targeting the ANS, which is divided into two systems: Parasympathetic and sympathetic. The first system is responsible for putting the body in a resting state, say, after a meal. It slows the heart rate and stimulates intestinal activity for digestion to take place, which is why it is also called the rest-and-digest system.
The second system, on the other hand, takes over when people enter the fight-or-flight state. This is the state that people are in when they are threatened or stressed. When in this state, people usually have rapid heartbeat, tense muscles, dilated pupils, and disrupted intestinal activity – the reason why an upset stomach is a common symptom of stress. By training the mind to calm itself through verbal suggestion, autogenic training can help people control the response of their sympathetic nervous system. It can also help people balance the activities of their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. So if you want a simple relaxation technique that gives your mind power to relieve stress, autogenic training is the thing for you.