One of the simplest ways to help yourself improve your posture, reduce excess tension and manage the effects of stress is the Alexander Technique Constructive Rest practice.
Constructive Rest is a subtle combination of a supportive bodily position that encourages gentle release through the neck and back and conscious directed thought to help redistribute muscular tone throughout the body.
Don’t let the simplicity of the practice fool you. Over time if practiced on a daily basis it can be immensely helpful. My students who make this a daily practice from the start of their lessons with me tend to progress much faster than the ones who do not.
Even if you have never worked with an Alexander teacher you can benefit from resting in this position on a daily basis.
The Basic Position
Lie down on your back on a firm but padded surface such as a nice soft carpet or a yoga mat on the floor.
Bend your knees and stand your feet on the floor about hip width apart and relatively close to your buttocks. You want the legs to balance with minimum effort so the knees can point toward the ceiling—don’t pull the knees together and don’t allow them to flop apart.
An alternate position for the legs is to drape them over a large bolster or support the lower legs on a low ottoman. If you do support your legs in this way let go of them so that the knees fall away from each other. Do not try to point the knees toward the ceiling.
Support the back of your head with some paperback books. Make sure to place the books underneath your head. The books should not be in contact with the back of your neck. If you have too few books, your head will tend to tilt backwards (chin higher than forehead) and it will be difficult to encourage muscular release through the back and neck. If the pile is too high, your chin will press uncomfortably on your throat. The optimum height is somewhere between these two extremes. If the books are too hard you can place a folded washcloth on top.
Fold your arms, rest your hands on your low abdomen and your elbows on the floor (see picture below)
Most importantly, this is a time to stop and not do anything for a few minutes. Allow the floor to gently support you under the back of your head, your back, your elbows and the soles of your feet.
The goal of this practice is not to flatten yourself against the floor nor is it to relax and go heavy. So, do not try to push yourself against the floor. Allow gravity instead to invite you to rest gently against the floor. This practice allows your muscles to release excess tension so your whole body can lengthen and muscular tone is redistributed throughout the body.
Keep your eyes open. You want to rest but remain conscious.
Keep your eyes open and practice giving yourself the following thoughts:
- Allow the muscles of my whole neck to be free of excess tension
- Allow the back of my neck to lengthen
- Allow the top of my head to release away from my tailbone
- Allow my spine to lengthen and my back to widen
- Allow my knees to release toward the ceiling away from my back
- Allow my shoulders to release apart from each other, out to the sides
- Allow my breath to flow easily in and out of my body
You do not need work hard to concentrate on these thoughts. Think them gently and let them go. Come back to them from time to time throughout your rest. Practicing these thoughts during your lying down is what makes this a procedure and not just a rest on the floor.
When you are finished decide that you are going to get up. Roll onto your side and find your way up to standing in the way that is best for you. Take some of the ease you found during your rest on the floor into the rest of your day.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I do this and for how long?
Preferably every day for 15-20 min. You will benefit most from this practice if you do it consistently every day than if you do it once a week for an extended period of time.
When is the best time to do Constructive Rest?
Do it during the day. Don’t wait and have it be the last thing you check off your to do list before you go to bed at night. Also, don’t discount the usefulness of doing it in the morning when your body is fresh. You don’t need to wait until you are tired or your back hurts to rest.
Is it OK to lie down for longer than 20 minutes?
Yes. However, if you find you’d like to lie down for longer than 20 minutes, try doing two 20 minute sessions instead of one long 40 minute session. Do one in the morning and one in the late afternoon, for example.
Is it just as effective to do it once a week for a longer period of time?
No. It is sort of like brushing your teeth. Every day for a few minutes will be much more effective over time than a marathon stretch once a week.
Why shouldn’t I do this on my bed or sofa?
A soft surface such as a bed or sofa that molds to your curves will not encourage the same release through your back as a firmer surface.
How can I avoid just falling asleep or drifting into day-dreams?
Remember to keep your eyes open. You want to practice resting while remaining conscious. If you find your thoughts somewhere else, bring your mind back to paying attention to the surface you are lying on and practice your Alexander Thinking. If you find you are consistently falling asleep you probably need more sleep generally. Take care of that need first by going to bed earlier.
Is this akin to relaxation exercises?
Not exactly. The aim is not to relax and go heavy. It is about allowing the muscles to release and lengthen so that there is a redistribution of muscle tone throughout the system.
I keep getting interrupted by the phone ringing. What should I do?
Make a decision that the time you spend in Constructive Rest is a time you free yourself from any demands, including answering the phone. Turn it off if you can’t ignore it.
Can I listen to music while I do this?
This is a time to tune in to your body and your mind, not check out. Often we use things such as listening to music to completely check out. There is a time and place for this. Try just resting quietly.