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The Autogenic training (AT) is a relaxation process. The term "autogenous" is composed of the Greek word "auto", which means "originally" or "automatically", and the Latin word "genero" for "to generate", "to produce". So it's about creating relaxation yourself. This works in autogenic training via the so-called autosuggestion, a kind of self-influence. By repeatedly saying certain sentences to yourself, a relaxation reaction in the body and psyche should be achieved. The training is considered a kind of self-hypnosis and was originally developed and used for psychotherapy. Today, this relaxation procedure is also widespread outside of psychotherapy and is used by many people to find more relaxation in everyday life and thus improve their quality of life.
When learning autogenic training, a distinction is made between the exercises of the basic or lower level, the exercises of the intermediate level and the exercises of the upper level. The exercises should best be learned under professional guidance before using them independently. The training is usually offered in group courses, but in some cases also in individual sessions. The process can be learned, for example, in courses at the adult education center. In the meantime, a large number of audiobooks are also available, which should convey the basics of autogenic training.
History of autogenic training
The German psychiatrist and neurologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz (1884-1970) founded the process of autogenic training in 1932 with the publication of his book "Das autogen Training". Relaxation methods such as yoga and zen already existed in India and Japan thousands of years ago, but they were closely interwoven with the worldview or religion. Johannes Heinrich Schultz, however, developed a technique that was devoid of any religion or cultural background and was initially used exclusively in the context of psychotherapy. This was based on his long-standing observations in a practice for hypnosis. In 1926, his first work on autogenic organ exercises was published. Schultz initially called his method "concentrative self-relaxation". Johannes Heinrich Schultz's findings have been expanded over the years.
How autogenic training works
During his many years working in a practice for hypnosis, Johannes Heinrich Schultz observed that humans are able to put themselves into a state of deep relaxation solely through their imagination. He found that imagination can actually change something in the body: if, for example, you imagine with all your strength that the skin of an arm feels very warm, you can actually achieve a measurable temperature increase in this area.
This phenomenon, which is the basis of autogenic training, has now been scientifically researched. Thoughts can generate nervous impulses. If you only think about performing a certain activity, corresponding nervous stimuli are formed. If you imagine, for example, that you want to reach for an object, the nervous system passes this thought on from the brain to the muscles in the arm, hand and fingers, which are responsible for the gripping movement. In this way, even new nerve connections can be formed and existing ones can be trained. Many athletes today, for example, use this knowledge to mentally prepare themselves again and again for a competition.
Once properly learned and applied consistently, autogenic training can have a relaxing effect overall. It can calm the circulation and the autonomic nervous system, increase the ability to concentrate and reduce irritability. With the help of the training you can learn to deal with stressful situations and the demands of everyday life with more composure. These effects can also improve sleep, which can also have a positive effect on relaxation during the day.
Autogenic training is a form of self-hypnosis in which the practitioner can bring himself into a so-called “switchover state” through auto-suggestion. This “switching” is the gliding over from the waking state into a kind of hypnotic state of consciousness. In the individual exercise units in autogenic training, you concentrate on certain formulas. These consist of short, concise sentences, such as "my right leg gets warm". The practitioner tries to visualize, visualize and feel this intensely in his mind's eye. The switch must be canceled after each training session, which means that the "normal" waking state must be actively restored.
The exercises of the different levels are to be equated with different levels of difficulty and build on one another. Here is a brief overview of the exercises.
The basic level
The basic level forms the basis of autogenic training. Attention is drawn to putting the body into a state of rest, which is also supposed to bring about mental relaxation.
Beginners should practice the basic concepts with a teacher or with the help of an audio book. "Let it happen, allow it" is the principle for autogenic training. The basic level exercises are aimed primarily at the autonomic nervous system. Six different training units are used: These include exercises for heaviness, warmth, for the heart, the breath, the solar plexus and the forehead or the head.
The weight exercise is said to cause a feeling of heaviness in the different limbs. For example, the practitioner focuses on the right arm using the formula "my right arm is getting heavy". It is important to let go completely and to focus on the specific part of the body. In this way, each part of the body is put in a heavy state until the whole body feels heavy. With regular practice, this state can be reached more quickly. The severity must be resolved after the exercise session. This is done by lounging, stretching, shaking and opening your eyes. The dissolving does not have to be carried out if the autogenic training is used as a sleep ritual.
The heat exercise is similar to the heavy exercise. Heaviness becomes the weight here. The auto suggestion is now called "my right arm is very warm". The heat exercise must also be dissolved.
The third exercise is the breathing exercise. Even, calm inhalation and exhalation is practiced. Phrases such as "my breath flows very evenly and calmly" or "deep breathing in and out makes me very calm" come into play.
During the cardiac exercise, the practitioner listens very intensively to the heart rhythm and suggests, for example, "my heart beats evenly and calmly".
The exercise for the solar plexus conveys a sensation of warmth in the middle of the body. Here formulas such as "my sun network exudes a soothing warmth" are used.
The last exercise of the basic level is the head or forehead exercise. The practitioner imagines a cool, clear forehead to clear his head. This exercise should not be done before going to bed.
Different individual formulas can be used for each exercise, depending on the initial situation, complaints and desired effect. For example, in a patient with a headache, the formula for the head exercise will be different than in a child who cannot concentrate. "My head feels very light," could be the autosuggestion for the headache patient; "I have a very cool head" could be the formula for improving the child's concentration.
Regular practice increases the effectiveness of the training. A practice period of five minutes a day is sufficient once the procedure has been properly learned and anchored internally.
Regular practice of the basic level is a prerequisite for learning the intermediate level. The intermediate level connects the basic level with the upper level. First, the basic level is carried out in order to achieve a state of relaxation. So-called formulaic resolutions are then used in the intermediate level. These are formulated briefly and succinctly. It is best to do this initially with the help of a teacher. For example, when it comes to mental preparation for a psychologically challenging situation, formulas such as "I stay calm and relaxed" or "I don't let anything get me upset" can be used. These sentences are sent as messages to the subconscious. The formulas should always be individually fitting, positive and formulated in the present, for example "I am calm and relaxed" instead of "I will not be excited".
Mastery of the basic and intermediate level is a prerequisite for the completion of the upper level. The basic level must be automated so that the practitioner can put himself into a state of relaxation at the push of a button. You should also have practice in practicing the formulaic formation of the intermediate level. The executor must be able to get into a state of deep relaxation in the shortest possible time. Meditation techniques are then used in the upper grades; inner images and symbols are used.
This level of autogenic training is designed to give practitioners a look inside. The work is carried out in seven phases. These include the presentation of colors, objects, ideal values, exercises for self-knowledge or character formation, picture journeys to the sea floor, on a mountain peak and pictures for personal goals. In the upper grades there are the greatest opportunities to develop self-development. A total of one training session of this exercise level should last at least twenty minutes.
First, the trainee puts himself in deep relaxation with the help of the basic level.
The first phase the upper level deals with a color experience. With closed eyes, the practitioner can see a certain color. This is done using a formula, such as "a color develops in front of me". This formula must be repeated six times. Of course, it takes some time and practice to actually see a color. The color that then appears in the mind's eye is entirely individual. The color experience should take about four minutes. With the sentence "my color is withdrawing", the first phase of the upper level is ended. This is followed, as in every stage, by withdrawing the hypnosis-like state by lounging, stretching, stretching and opening the eyes.
The second phase is the perception of objects. This is already one of the advanced meditation techniques. The practitioner tries to imagine concrete objects, for example a flower, in the mind's eye. Here too, sentences are used. Examples of this are "a flower meadow with many colorful flowers appears in my mind's eye", or "I see a big tree with colorful leaves in my mind's eye".
The rest of the process corresponds to the first phase. Four minutes should also be practiced here.
In the third phase the learning of ideal values such as love, happiness, trust or harmony is learned. For each ideal value there is an image that should appear in meditation. Sentences like "I see love in front of my eyes and feel it too" are used for this.
The fourth phase is an exercise in self-knowledge. Questions such as "who am I" or "what am I" can be asked here. An imaginary mirror confronts the practicing person with himself. For example, wrong eating habits can be addressed through formulas such as "healthy eating is very important to me".
Phases five and six are meditative picture journeys to different places, to the sea floor or to a mountain peak.
Phase seven requires a lot of practice. Here very individual pictures can be created from the inside. If stressful or even anxiety-causing images appear, the exercise is stopped immediately.
After each phase, it is important to withdraw the exercise by stretching, lounging and opening your eyes, otherwise the exerciser would remain in a sleepy state.
Posture during autogenic training
It is important that the posture is comfortable when practicing. The simplest exercise posture is lying on your back. Other traditional attitudes are armchair posture and carriage driver posture, which Johannes Heinrich Schultz developed. In this exercise posture, you sit slightly bent forward on the front part of a chair, elbows or hands lie on your thighs. Both feet are firmly on the floor.
Once mastered, autogenic training can be used anywhere. On the bus, in the tram, while waiting at the cash register or in the waiting room. A certain posture is no longer important here.
Who helps autogenic training?
Everyone can learn about autogenic training. Only by mastering the basic level can you deal with the demands of everyday life more relaxed, switching off is easier, a general well-being arises. In the intermediate level, personal goals are then pursued, which means that, for example, fear or concentration disorders can be worked on and reduced directly through auto-suggestion. The upper level also provides the tools for self-knowledge, problem solving and personal development.
Autogenic training is suitable for children, adolescents and adults into old age. This form of relaxation is used for anxiety, for pain treatment, for sleep and concentration disorders, for addiction treatment, for stress and numerous physical diseases, such as an irritable bowel, stomach problems, abdominal pain, period pain, diabetes, hormonal disorders, during menopause and much more more.
Autogenic training is one of the most common, widely recognized relaxation procedures in Germany. In the meantime, there are some studies and studies on the effect that confirm the procedure is effective, especially for certain physical complaints. However, since the data are not yet sufficient to scientifically recognize the training, it is still considered an alternative medical procedure. Nevertheless, the costs for this are now taken over in whole or in part by many health insurance companies.
Autogenic training should not be used for certain diseases such as epilepsy, heart disease and mental illness. Anyone who wants to learn this procedure should therefore consult the doctor in charge beforehand. (sw, kh)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Dr. med. Bernt Hoffmann: Handbuch Autogenes Training, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 20th edition, 2017
- Prof. Dr. Dietrich Langen, Prof. Karl Mann: Autogenous Training, GU 2005
- Hartmut Kraft: Autogenic Training: Fundamentals, Technology, Application, Medical Scientific Publishing Company (MWV) 2015
- Meditation for beginners: meditation and autogenic training for maximum relaxation and self-healing, Vital Experts, 2019