Autogenic Training

Topic Overview

What is autogenic training?

Autogenic training (AT) is a technique that teaches your body to respond to your verbal commands. These commands "tell" your body to relax and control breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and body temperature. The goal of AT is to achieve deep relaxation and reduce stress. After you learn the technique, you can use it whenever you need or want relief from symptoms of stress, or you can practice it regularly to enjoy the benefits of deep relaxation and prevent the effects of chronic stress.

Autogenic training consists of six standard exercises that make the body feel warm, heavy, and relaxed. For each exercise, you get into a simple posture (sitting in a comfortable chair or reclining), concentrate without any goal, and then use visual imagination and verbal cues to relax your body in some specific way.

You learn each exercise by reading about it or watching a teacher, then practicing it for a few minutes several times a day. Learning the exercises, either from an instructor or on your own, usually moves at a slow, steady pace, taking 4 to 6 months to master all six exercises.

Without regular practice, autogenic training is not likely to have an effect. For this reason, only those people who are motivated and committed to learning it are likely to get any benefit from AT. But for those who master the technique, it works, and it can be an effective treatment for chronic stress.

The way AT works is not fully understood, but its effects on the body are measurable. Experts believe that AT works in ways that are similar to hypnosis and biofeedback. The exercises allow communication between the mind and the body, allowing you to influence body reactions that cannot normally be controlled, such as blood pressure, heartbeat, and body temperature.

What is autogenic training used for?

Most people use autogenic training (AT) to relieve the symptoms of stress. It can also be helpful with problems such as generalized anxiety, fatigue, and irritability. Some people use it to manage pain, reduce sleeping disorders such as insomnia, and increase their resistance to stress.

Also, AT has been shown to help treat:

  • Hyperventilation (breathing that is deeper and more rapid than normal).
  • Asthma (inflammation in the tubes that carry air to the lungs, resulting in periodic episodes of difficulty breathing as well as wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing).
  • Constipation and diarrhea.
  • Gastritis and stomach spasms.
  • Ulcers (sores on the skin or on a mucous membrane, such as inside the mouth, stomach, or intestines).
  • Racing heart and irregular heartbeat.
  • High blood pressure .
  • Cold hands or feet.
  • Headaches.
  • Thyroid problems, such as an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

Is autogenic training safe?

Autogenic training (AT) is safe for most people. Before beginning a program to learn AT, see your doctor for a physical exam and discuss what physiological effects AT might have on you. If you have a serious disease such as diabetes or a heart condition, learn and use AT only under the supervision of your doctor.

Some people have a sharp increase or decrease in their blood pressure when they do AT exercises. If you have high or low blood pressure, have your doctor or nurse check to see whether AT is bringing your blood pressure closer to normal.

If you use AT to help control any disease, including all heart and circulatory problems, do not use it to replace any conventional treatments, such as medicines.

AT is not recommended for:

  • Children younger than age 5.
  • People with severe mental or emotional disorders.

If you feel very anxious or restless during or after doing the exercises, stop AT or continue only under the supervision of a professional AT instructor.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Freeman L (2004). Hypnosis. In Mosby's Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 2nd ed., p. 268. St. Louis: Mosby.
  • Payne R (2005). Relaxation Techniques: A Practical Handbook for the Health Care Professional, 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Credits

Author Eileen Ellig
Author Jeannette Curtis
Editor Maria Essig
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Last Updated June 30, 2009

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