The diagonal and off-diagonal elements of the effective self-diffusion tensor, Deff, are related to the echo intensity in an NMR spin-echo experiment. This relationship is used to design experiments from which Deff is estimated. This estimate is validated using isotropic and anisotropic media, i.e., water and skeletal muscle. It is shown that significant errors are made in diffusion NMR spectroscopy and imaging of anisotropic skeletal muscle when off-diagonal elements of Deff are ignored, most notably the loss of information needed to determine fiber orientation. Estimation of Deff provides the theoretical basis for a new MRI modality, diffusion tensor imaging, which provides information about tissue microstructure and its physiologic state not contained in scalar quantities such as T1, T2, proton density, or the scalar apparent diffusion constant.