This is an excerpt from Inside Sport Psychology by Costas I. Karageorghis & Peter Terry.
The progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) technique works on the principle that relaxation in the muscles creates a sense of wellbeing in the mind. Several other techniques work in the opposite direction; that is, passive, relaxed thoughts spread relaxation throughout the body. One such technique is known as the relaxing place and involves visualizing a real or imaginary location that carries strong associations of relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, do not force yourself to relax. This is counterproductive. Learn to just let it happen so there will be no distracting or unwanted thoughts.
The relaxing place is a visualization exercise designed to transport you from a stressful situation to a place that you associate with feelings of peace and quiet, where you can really take things easy. Practice this technique in a place where you will not be disturbed, either sitting or lying down. For maximum effect, you or a friend should record it onto an MP3 file. Before you start the exercise, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling very slowly through your mouth. If, at any time, for any reason, for example in case of emergency or any situation where full attention is required, by opening your eyes, you will be fully alert.
(Where you see ellipses [. . .], pause for a few seconds.)
First, to relax, put on some very relaxing music or sounds of nature and sit or lie down in a comfortable position in a place where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
Look up at your eyebrows and begin to concentrate on the sounds around you . . . maybe the distant sound of traffic or the hustle and bustle going on outside. . . . Then concentrate on the sounds of the music, feel it washing over you as if it were the tide going in and out, in and out. . . . Now pay attention to the sound of your thoughts . . . concentrate on your breathing. Take deep breaths in and out . . . listen to your heart beat . . . become aware of your eyelids and feel them blinking quickly and notice that you have a strong desire to close your eyes. . . . Allow your eyes to relax. In a few seconds, you will imagine your favorite place of relaxation . . . maybe somewhere you have been before, a riverside, a deserted beach, a summer meadow, or somewhere you can imagine you would feel relaxed, . . . and now . . . just imagine that you are standing on a balcony . . . and there is a long set of stairs in front of you. . . . Leading down from this balcony . . . there are strong stairs . . . with wide steps . . . and a handrail on each side. . . . The stairs are well lit . . . and you can see them clearly. . . . Now begin to count down from 10 to 1 . . . and with each number . . . you take a single step down the stairs . . . and with each number you become more and more calm, more and more relaxed. . . . Each step down from the balcony takes you deeper and deeper . . . into your wonderful place of relaxation . . . and as you slowly descend these stairs . . . you experience a sense of ever-deepening relaxation . . . throughout your entire body. . . . You feel the stairs under your feet . . . and when you eventually reach step 1, you pause and wonder where you might go next. . . . Again you feel very tranquil, and this tranquillity is accompanied by a sense of anticipation. . . . Now step off . . . and when you do so . . . you find yourself in your favorite place of relaxation . . . and enjoy . . . this beautiful place. . . .
(Allow the relaxing music or sounds of nature to play for as long as you wish the exercise to last.)
During your time in your relaxing place, take time to immerse yourself in the sights around you, the distinct smells and the gentle sound of your favorite music playing in the background. Feel yourself sinking into an ever-deepening state of relaxation.
While you are relaxed, give yourself some positive and beneficial suggestions relating, for example, to increasing your self-confidence, attaining peak performance, or mastering a specific sport skill that has proved elusive to you.
Now, without opening your eyes, bring your attention back to the room you are sitting in and very gently squeeze your left thumb with the fingers of your right hand. As you do, allow yourself to drift back to your relaxing place and immerse yourself in it once more. Notice all the little details of your relaxing place using each of your senses, and again feel totally relaxed and at ease.
Repeat the process of allowing the scene to fade and then squeezing your thumb to return to the relaxing place. Do this another two or three times before releasing your thumb and opening your eyes.
After sufficient practice, holding your thumb will act as a trigger that will take you to your peaceful little hideaway immediately when you feel the need to relax. It can become an effective way to stay calm before competition or during extended breaks in the action. Our experience has shown that when there is a great deal of background noise in a competitive environment, this exercise is not particularly effective. One way to counter potential distractions is to increase the volume of the soundtrack and to find a quiet corner well away from other competitors.