Picture credit: Vlada Karpovich
I’ve been an autogenic meditator for over thirty years because IT WORKS. And I often recommend this mindful relaxation practice to clients and friends as a simple and effective way to tune in and relax. There’s more to this technique though than just preparing for a deep sleep. It’s an effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia, and encourages self-regulation and self-induced relaxation. So it’s a technique that can help you build stress resilience over time. I love that! Find out more and try out a short and long version of autogenic meditation right here.
I know a lot of you will agree with me here, meditation isn’t always easy. But that’s because we tend to think of meditation as arriving at a state of bliss. Let’s reframe this narrative then. For me, the end point of meditation may be bliss and calm, but the journey there is where a rich weave of healing and presence takes place.
So let’s make our goal here to have a deep experience of self-connection! In this piece I’ll tell you all about the technique of Autogenic Training/Meditation, what the six stages of this technique are and why it’s so effective for relaxation and sleep preparation. But more than this, it’s a powerful way to build body-connection and presence, which heals the spiritual and emotional aspects of ourselves.
What is Autogenic Training?
The German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz created this technique and published the first book on it in 1932. He originally studied and researched sleep and hypnosis with reknown neurologist Oscar Vogt. What they discovered was that during sleep we experience specific sensations that contribute to a state of deep relaxation, and these sensations form the foundations of the six stages of autogenic training. More info on that below.
Autogenic training is a powerful way to induce relaxation. It was designed to be practiced two or three times daily in 15 minute sessions to combat stress and was used in the second world war to assist wounded soldiers with pain relief. During each session, the meditator is guided by a repetitive visualisations and descriptions that have a relaxing effect. By hearing and then embodying these visuals and sensations such as ‘heavy’ or ‘calm’, over and over again, they begin to manifest in the meditator.
Autogenic training works on the autonomic nervous system, restoring harmony and guiding us out of the our primal sympathetic system (‘fight or flight’) responses. Through this practice your body moves into a parasympathetic state which is so important for:
- Maintaining calm and inner balance
- Lowering blood pressure
- Lowering stress
- Promoting immune function
- Promotion neurotransmitter production
- Promoting digestive function
- Promoting healing processes in the body
- Promoting sleep and restoration and everything else our bodies do when we’re in a relaxed state.
Autogenic training is effective for:
- Reducing anxiety
- Reducing irritability
- Alleviating fatigue
- Improving stress resilience
- Alleviating sleep disturbance
- Assist with focus and concentration
Keen to try this technique? You’ll find a couple of recordings below. The second’s my favourite because its slower and more paced….I have to admit I’ve usually dropped off before its finished which is totally fine if that happens for you! Just know that its all sinking in while you’re asleep. There’s more about this amazing technique below too so read on in you’re interested!
17 minute version
This recording is great for beginners and will give you an idea of the technique. But it’s not as slowly paced and hypnotic as the longer version below.
1 hour version
This longer recording is very popular and I’d recommend jumping into bed for this one because you may nod off!
The Six Stages of Autogenic Training
As I mentioned above, when we sleep we experience specific sensations that induce calm and bliss. These include heaviness, warmth and calm. By using breathing techniques, visualisation and repetitive sensory words, we can train our bodies to experience these sensations during the meditation and enjoy the benefits of them long after the meditation is complete. There are six stages to autogenic meditation:
- First we induce heaviness and work through the body in parts from the feet upwards, repeating phrases that make us feel more heavy. This is one of the more prominent sensations we experience in deep sleep states.
- Second we induce warmth through the body, again, part by part until we’re feeling so snug and secure that it feels really safe to let go and fall asleep. This stage is also about increasing blood circulation to the peripherals of the body (the limbs) because in a stress state we tend to move blood to the central organs like the heart while our hands and feet get really cold. If you’re one of those people who always have cold hands and cold feet, it’s a good indication that your body is often in a stress state.
- Third we become aware of our heart rate and induce a more regular heart rate. Fast heart rate occurs with stress and anxiety so we want to consciously let our heart rate slow down.
- Fourth we use a breathing technique (such as breath in for 1 count, breath out for 2 counts) which makes us more aware of our breathing and lengthening on the exhalation brings a sense of relief and let-go to the body which helps us relax more deeply….as if you weren’t already drifting into Keat’s River of Lethe by now! The breathing is specifically about lengthening breaths and making us breathe more slowly and regularly.
- Fifth we focus on inducing warmth and relaxation to the abdominal area.
- Lastly we focus on cooling the head and that’s also about getting us out of the monkey mind and out of stress states where there’s increased blood flow to the brain. Not that we want to starve our brain of blood, but rather we’re tempering the flow and cooling down a hot head.
In case you can’t tell already, I’m a big fan of autogenic training and there’s so much to this technique that’s easy, accessible, effective and valuable. I hope you LOVE it! Let me know how you find it, and if you search around you’ll find other autogenic meditations out there. So if mine don’t work for you, look around.
There are more articles on natural approaches to better sleep here on my blog too!
Hey there! Welcome to my world of totally natural and powerful healing medicines. Medicines from nature. Medicine from Source. I’m a naturopath and herbalist with extensive clinical experience working with a range of health conditions including hormonal, metabolic, mental health, sleep and more.
I’ve brought together years of clinical and teaching experience, academic skill and curiosity to bring you this blog. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!