Constructive rest, also called semi-supine position, is taught in Alexander Technique lessons and classes. With this manual, you can start the practice of constructive rest as a beginner – or continue it, if you are already an Alexander Technique student. The wear and tear on our vertical spine is enormous. When you are lying down in the constructive rest position, you are in the position of maximum rest for the back and in a process of rejuvenation for the entire body. Practiced once or twice a day for 10 – 20 minutes, it helps to let go of excessive muscular tension, let your spine release into its natural length and find more calm and ease. By stopping, by saying “no” to the habitual activities of the day, you create a resting space for 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. (If you suffer from lower back pain or/and you are very tired, it is beneficial to put the lower legs on a couch or chair.) Your head is slightly elevated on foam rests or books. The headrest should not be too high (chin would compress your throat) nor too low (head would fall backwards, neck would shorten). To get a rough idea on how many books you need, stand against a wall and measure with your fingers the distance between head and the wall. Then add an inch to this measurement. If you take Alexander Technique lessons or classes, the teacher will help you determine the right height. The headrest encourages the neck muscles to release and allows the neck a gentle passive stretch. Having your knees 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 thinking and guiding your mind to affect the body. Constructive 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 your breathing as you are exhaling and inhaling. Notice the movement of your breath in your body. Just observe it. You may notice that your breathing is deepening as you are putting attention to it.
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, your feet, your lower back and upper back, your upper arms and your head.
Notice any places that hold some tension and let go of the holding.
Allow your whole body to be fully supported by the floor. Ease into the floor.
Continue with giving yourself directions. Please note that the activity in constructive rest only takes place in the mind. ‘Giving yourself directions’ are merely thoughts. Your mind sends messages to your body. 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 may want to record the directions on your mobile 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.
Let your head go forward and up – this is towards the ceiling and wall behind you.
Let your back be long and wide and be fully supported by the floor.
Allow your tongue to rest easily in your mouth.
Allow your lips to soften and part the lips a millimeter or two.
Allow your jaw joint to open and soften.
Let your jaw drop away from the skull towards the floor.
Allow your breast bone to soften and to release into the floor.
Allow your elbows to point outwards away from shoulders and wrists.
Let your hands rest easily onto your belly. Let your palms soften.
Allow the feet to soften into the floor.
Allow the lower back to widen and lengthen.
Let the muscles of the thighs and the muscles of the lower legs ease.
Let your knees go upwards towards the ceiling, away from pelvis and feet.
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 and sit back onto the heels. Now get onto your knees and find a way up into standing in the least effortful way possible. Take time to get up, don’t rush.
To get the full benefit, you practice this active rest position every day, best twice a day. Start with 5 minutes and gradually increase the length of time to 15 – 20 minutes. After practicing for a few days, your body starts to like it and asks for it! You might also notice that you feel calmer, taller and lighter, and that you have more awareness in daily activities and find more ease in movement!