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Autogenic Training

Health Benefits, Uses, and More

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Updated March 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Autogenic training is a stress management technique. Developed by German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz and first introduced in 1932, it consists of verbal-command-based exercises designed to increase feelings of relaxation. In addition to reducing stress, autogenic training is said to aid in the treatment of a variety of health problems.

Scientists have yet to determine how autogenic training might reduce stress and enhance health. One theory is that (as with alternative therapies like biofeedback and hypnotherapy) it may improve communication between the mind and body and, as a result, help people to gain some degree of control over the body's vital functions and physiological reactions.

What Does Autogenic Training Involve?

Autogenic training involves speaking a series of statements about sensations in various parts of your body. For example, a typical autogenic training session may begin with the participant speaking the following statements: 

"My arms are heavy.  My left arm is heavy.  My right arm is heavy.  Both of my arms are heavy."

After repeating this statement several times (and using visualization to create a sense of heaviness in the arms), the participant moves onto the legs, heart, lungs, solar plexus, and forehead and speaks specific statements about each body part. This includes such statements as "My heartbeat is calm and regular," "My solar plexus is warm," and "My forehead is cool."

You can learn to practice autogenic training with the help of a teacher or through resources like books and audio recordings. Thought to take several months to master, autogenic training is said to have a significant effect only when practiced regularly.

Benefits of Autogenic Training

Research shows that autogenic training may be beneficial in the treatment of many health conditions. In a 2002 report published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, for instance, investigators analyzed 60 previously published studies on autogenic training and found that it may help treat tension headache, migraine, mild-to-moderate hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure), asthma, Raynaud's disease, anxiety disorders, moderate depression, and sleep disorders.

Here's a look at several other study findings on the potential benefits of autogenic training:

1)  Anxiety

So far, research on autogenic training's effectiveness against anxiety has yielded mixed results. In their analysis of eight clinical trials on the use of autogenic training as a means of reducing stress and anxiety, for example, the authors of a 2000 report from Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that "no firm conclusions could be drawn" (largely due to flaws in the reviewed trials).

However, some studies indicate that autogenic training may aid in anxiety management for certain populations. These studies include a clinical trial published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in 2006 (which found that two months of autogenic training helped alleviate anxiety in nursing students), as well as a clinical trial published in the American Heart Journal in 2004 (which found that five months of autogenic training helped reduce anxiety in patients undergoing coronary angioplasty).

2)  Heart Health

Autogenic training may be beneficial for people with cardiac syndrome X (a condition marked by angina-like pain but the absence of heart disease), according to a study published in the journal Menopause in 2009. For eight weeks, 53 women with cardiac syndrome X either took part in an autogenic training program or kept track of their symptoms in a diary. Results revealed that women who underwent autogenic training experienced a significantly greater improvement in the severity of their symptoms.

3)  Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Autogenic training shows promise in the treatment or irritable bowel syndrome, suggests a small study published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback in 2010. For the study, 21 people with irritable bowel syndrome were assigned to either autogenic training or to an intervention that involved discussions about their meal habits and lifestyles. Looking at questionnaires submitted by the study participants, researchers found that a greater number of those assigned to autogenic training reported experiencing "adequate relief" by the study's end.

Uses for Autogenic Training 

Autogenic training is generally used to treat the following conditions:

anxiety 

asthma 

back pain

constipation

depression

headaches 

high blood pressure 

insomnia

irritable bowel syndrome 

migraine 

Raynaud's disease

In addition, autogenic training is said to improve sleep and help manage chronic pain.

Alternatives to Autogenic Training 

A number of other mind-body techniques may help promote relaxation and shield you from the harmful effects of chronic stress. These techniques include meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Is Autogenic Training Safe?

Although autogenic training is generally considered safe for most individuals, it should not be used in place of standard care in treatment of any chronic condition.

 

Sources

Asbury EA, Kanji N, Ernst E, Barbir M, Collins P. "Autogenic training to manage symptomology in women with chest pain and normal coronary arteries." Menopause. 2009 Jan-Feb;16(1):60-5.

Ernst E, Kanji N. "Autogenic training for stress and anxiety: a systematic review." Complement Ther Med. 2000 Jun;8(2):106-10.

Kanji N. "Management of pain through autogenic training." Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2000 Aug;6(3):143-8.

Kanji N, White AR, Ernst E. "Autogenic training reduces anxiety after coronary angioplasty: a randomized clinical trial." Am Heart J. 2004 Mar;147(3):E10.

Kanji N, White A, Ernst E. "Autogenic training to reduce anxiety in nursing students: randomized controlled trial." J Adv Nurs. 2006 Mar;53(6):729-35.

Shinozaki M, Kanazawa M, Kano M, Endo Y, Nakaya N, Hongo M, Fukudo S. "Effect of autogenic training on general improvement in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial." Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2010 Sep;35(3):189-98.

Stetter F, Kupper S. "Autogenic training: a meta-analysis of clinical outcome studies." Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2002 Mar;27(1):45-98.

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