Constructive Rest for Better Backs

Do you have lower back pain? Do you feel tense in your neck and shoulders? Do you experience stiffness in your joints? Or do you feel kind of heavy and low energy? Aches and pain in the body are often due to harmful ways of moving in our daily life. Habitual movement patterns such as pulling the head back and down and putting a strain on the neck, holding the breath or exerting daily activities with excess tension are often unconscious. They may create compression of the spine, joint stiffness, discomfort and pain and restriction of movement.


Here I am introducing you to the constructive rest position. In the Alexander Technique, it is also called semi-supine position. It is taught in Alexander Technique lessons and classes – as some of you know. With this manual, you can start this active rest practice as a beginner – or continue it, if you are already an Alexander Technique student. When you are lying down in this rest position, you are in the position of maximum rest for the back. Practiced once or twice a day for 10 – 20 minutes, it will help you to restore balance and ease throughout your body. It helps you to recognize excessive muscular tension, allow you to let go of unnecessary patterns and let your spine release into its natural length. The wear and tear on our vertical spine is enormous. This lying-down position is the best way to start the process of lengthening the spine and balancing our whole body. We start this process by stopping, by saying “no” to the habitual activities of the day, creating a resting space for the body and mind.


INSTRUCTIONS: You lie down on the floor on a yoga mat, blanket or carpet (firm surface). Your hands are rested on your belly, your feet are placed flat on the floor and your knees are pointed to the ceiling. The feet should be shoulder width apart and quite close to the body. Your head is slightly elevated on a foam rest or on a few books. The headrest should not be too high (which would constrict your breathing and swallowing) nor too low (head would fall backwards, neck would shorten). To get a rough idea how many books you need, stand against a wall and let your head just balance on top of the spine.  Then measure with your fingers the distance between head and the wall and add an inch to this measurement. If you take Alexander Technique lessons or classes, the teacher will help you find the right height. The headrest encourages the neck muscles to release and allows the curve of the neck a gentle passive stretch. Accordingly, having your knees bent up allows the curve of the lower back to open out and extend.


Get down into this position with as little effort as possible. (You may want to get instructions how to get down in an easy way in an Alexander Technique lesson or class.) Don’t rush. Getting onto the floor with care rather than just throwing yourself down will help you get the most out of this activity. Make sure the room is warm and calm. Take a little time to quiet down. Then start a process of directing your mind to your body. Active rest is more than simply adopting a position and resting for a while. It is a combination of the physical position and the engagement of the mind. Start with giving yourself mental directions:


Take a moment to notice the gentle tide of your breathing as it ebbs and flows in its own rhythm.


Notice the parts of the body that are in contact with the floor.

Allow yourself to be completely supported by the surface you are lying on.

Notice any places that you hold some tension.

Allow your body to let go of the tension and release your body into the floor.


Continue with giving yourself directions. Please note that the activity in the active rest position takes place in the mind only. Giving yourself directions are not “doings”, but just thoughts. Just the process of directing your mind will affect the body and create more ease and balance. (You may ask a friend or partner to read out loud while you are having our active rest or you can record the directions on your cell phone.)


Allow your head to completely rest on the books.


Allow your neck to be free.

Allow your head to go away from the spine.

Allow your back to be long and wide and release into the floor.


Allow your tongue to rest easily in your mouth.

Allow your lips to soften, maybe parting the lips a millimeter or two.

Allow your jaw joint to open and soften and your jaw drop towards the floor.


Allow your shoulders to widen and release into the floor.

Allow your elbows to point outwards away from shoulders and wrists and your hands to rest easily onto your belly.


Allow the feet to spread out on the floor.

Allow the lower back to widen and lengthen.

Allow the muscles of the thighs and the muscles of the lower legs to release.

Allow the knees to go away from pelvis and feet and let the knees go up towards the ceiling.


Repeat these directions several times throughout your constructive rest. When you wish to get up, continue to give yourself directions. First roll your head the side. Then roll you whole body over. Come into a sitting over the side by pushing into your hands. Then come onto all fours, back sitting onto the heels and find a way up into standing with as little effort as possible.

To get the best benefit, you need to practice the contructive rest position every day, best twice a day. Start with 5 minutes and gradually increase the length of time. You will notice that after practicing for a few days, your body starts to like it and ask for it! You might also notice that you feel taller and lighter and find more ease in activities during the day.