Autogenic training, also known as autogenic therapy, utilizes the body's natural relaxation response to counteract unwanted mental and physical symptoms. Through the use of breathing techniques, specific verbal stimuli, and mindful meditation, autogenic training can help people seeking treatment to reduce stress and achieve relaxation of the body and mind.

Autogenic training is often utilized in sport psychology, in particular, but can offer benefit to people experiencing a wide range of concerns. 

History and Development

Autogenic training was developed in Germany by Johannes Schultz in the 1920s. A psychologist who studied under neurologist Oscar Vogt for several years, Schultz was influenced by many of his ideas. The two researched sleep and hypnosis together, finding that people experienced sensations of heaviness, warmth, and other signs of deep relaxation while hypnotized. Based on these findings, Schultz began formulating a systematic way for people to induce this relaxation response in order to improve their health, eventually creating autogenic training.  

In 1926, Schultz presented his initial findings on autogenic training to the Medical Society in Berlin. He and his protege, Wolfgang Luthe, conducted further research on the impact of autogenic training on various physical and mental health issues. In 1932, Schultz published Autogenic Training, the first of seven volumes on autogenic therapy. These volumes, which are still used today, were later modified by Luthe in order to extend the duration of the training period and increase the level of safety for those practicing this self-administered relaxation technique.  

Dr Herbert Benson, the founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute in Massachusetts, included autogenic training on the Institute's list of treatments used for relaxation for the first time in the 1970s. The British Autogenic Society was established in the 1980s, and in 1984 the British Journal of Medical Psychology recognized autogenic training as a cost-effective treatment for stress and anxiety.

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Today, autogenic training centers can be found in concentrated parts of the world, and this method is prevalent in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany. According to the British Autogenic Society, the Autogenic Training Department at the Royal London Hospital for Integrative Medicine has been providing autogenic training in a group setting for over 20 years. This treatment has not yet made its way into mainstream psychotherapy treatment. 

How Does Autogenic Training Work?

First developed as a method of relaxation, autogenic training has been compared to yoga, hypnosis, and meditation in that it influences the body’s autonomic nervous system. Autogenic means “self-generating," and the primary goal for this form of therapy is to train people to use the body's relaxation response on their own, as needed. Participants are taught to use this method to manage their emotional responses to stress and control physical symptoms such as blood pressure, heart rate, and rapid breathing.

Practitioners who are certified in this approach use six basic techniques, which are taught to people in treatment at a slow and steady pace that can span many months. These techniques are designed to stimulate a sense of heaviness in the musculo-skeletal system and a feeling of warmth in the circulatory system. Therapists also direct the attention of the person in treatment to things like heartbeat, breath, and other bodily sensations. Sessions usually last about 15 to 20 minutes, but participants, sometimes referred to as “trainees,” are strongly encouraged to practice at home daily, utilizing the techniques as needed. 

A Typical Autogenic Training Session

A session of autogenic training might take the following format:

First, the trainee is encouraged to settle into a comfortable position—sitting upright, reclined, or lying down. What is most important is that the chosen posture promotes calm relaxation.

The therapist begins by using verbal cues to guide the trainee's breathing and direct attention to certain parts of the trainee's body. The verbal cues can encourage sensations of heaviness and warmth, which can then lead to deep relaxation. The therapist might lead the cues, have the trainee repeat them, or have the trainee say them silently, depending on the level of training the individual has received.

Some of the verbal cues that may be learned include: 

  • I am completely calm (say once).
  • My right arm is heavy (say six times).
  • I am completely calm (say once).
  • My right arm is warm (say six times).
  • I am completely calm (say once).
  • My heart beats calmly and regularly (six times).
  • I am completely calm (say once).
  • My breathing is calm and regular ... It breathes me (six times).
  • I am completely calm (say once).

Once the lesson is finished, the therapist will help the trainee “cancel” the relaxation session. One phrase that is commonly used is “Arms firm—Breathe deeplyOpen eyes.” The session concludes, and the trainee is encouraged to practice what has been learned at home, outside of the session. Each session expands on the last lesson until the trainee and therapist feel confident that the process can be conducted independently. 

Each lesson focuses on a different sensation in the body, and there are six established lessons (techniques) included in autogenic training:

  1. Inducing heaviness. Verbal cues suggest heaviness in the body.
  2. Inducing warmth. Verbal cues induce feelings of warmth.
  3. The heart practice. Verbal cues call attention to the heartbeat.
  4. Breathing practice. Verbal cues focus on breath.
  5. Abdominal practice. Verbal cues focus on abdominal sensations. 
  6. Head practice. Verbal cues focus on the coolness of the forehead.

The goal of each session is for the trainee to feel a sense of calm at its conclusion and to have gained better control over unwanted emotional, physiological, and physical responses to stimuli. Those who practice autogenic training and utilize it regularly may find it an effective treatment for a wide range of physical and mental health issues. This approach may help individuals develop a greater sense of empowerment and control over their lives, and some may find that practicing autogenic training helps them experience greater self-confidence and increased self-esteem.

How Can Autogenic Training Help?

While widely known to be an effective treatment for stress, autogenic training can have many other beneficial effects. According to a meta-analysis of over 70 outcome studies published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, autogenic training appeared to be an effective treatment for many different issues, including migraines, hypertension, asthma, somatization, anxiety, depression and dysthymia, and insomnia or other sleep issues.

Further, many of those who learn and practice autogenic training report its effectiveness in the treatment of other mental and physical health issues, such as panic attacks, phobias, chronic pain, stomach issues, and heart palpitations. 

Regularly practicing autogenic training, rather than only resorting to it when already stressed, may help individuals develop the ability to deal with stress more effectively when it surfaces and handle higher levels of stress. People have also reported that autogenic training helped them feel more positive about life in general. 

The approach may also help individuals develop a greater sense of empowerment and control over their lives, and some may find that practicing autogenic training helps them experience greater self-confidence and increased self-esteem

Who Offers Autogenic Training?

Autogenic training is offered in various parts of the world but is especially popular in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany. The approach might be taught in individual sessions, group settings, to companies and organizations, or in universities and hospitals.

The International Certification Board of Clinical Hypnotherapy (ICBCH) sets the standards for the practice of hypnotherapy and other similar forms of therapy, such as autogenic training. The ICBCH offers certification programs in autogenic training as well as continuing education credits. One example of an established certification programs for autogenic training is the Medical Meditation and Stress Management Certification, a 30-hour certification program that includes courses in mindfulness-based stress reduction, dialectical behavior therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy as well as autogenic training. 

Concerns and Limitations

In the decades since autogenic training was pioneered, dozens of studies have suggested its effectiveness. 

Autogenic training can be practiced individually, but the best way to achieve successful results from autogenic training is to first learn the technique from a certified professional. There is some degree of risk associated with attempting autogenic training without any support from a therapist. If used incorrectly, it could lead to an increased severity of emotional concerns. Qualified practitioners can ensure that the techniques are taught efficiently and administered properly so as to decrease the risk of harm.

Additionally, experienced therapists are typically able to discern whether autogenic training is appropriate for the presenting concerns. Autogenic training professionals indicate several physical and mental health issues that should not be treated with this approach: severe heart problems, diabetes, symptoms of psychosis, delusional behavior, paranoia, and dissociation


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