There are a couple of pieces of advice I find myself suggesting to clients quite regularly: make sure you drink sufficient water; try to stretch your (insert tight muscle, but typically chest & neck) regularly throughout the day and particularly before you go to bed; move regularly, particularly if you have a desk bound job. But the one that's surprisingly beneficial on a physical level is this: Lie down.
I'm not talking about an afternoon nap that whiles away hours, or a toes up for 40 winks ... I'm just talking about taking 5-10 minutes out each day to lie down.
OK so there's more to it than that, but the principle is called Constructive Rest, or Contemplative Rest, or Active Rest ... or to my mind Resting Easy. As we move through the day, our spine can gradually become compressed, with the average person losing about 1cm in height between getting up and going to bed. Taking some time out to lie down allows your spine to re-lengthen, as well as providing a great means of relieving muscular tension and discomfort.
Begin lying on the back on a firm, flat surface. Bend the knees with the feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. The head can be supported so that it is in line with the spine. Some prefer to keep the hips, knees, and feet in line with each other; if this is hard to do and causes muscle tension, then let the knees rest against each other with the feet slightly wider and the toes turned in.
The femur [thigh bone] will rest gently into the hip socket, releasing the "grip" of the hip flexors. The spine will follow its natural curves. Both arrangements free the psoas.
Arms can be crossed at the elbows and lie across the chest; if this is uncomfortable, they can relax on the floor. (Remember, this is a rest position!). The Vital Psoas Muscle: Connecting Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Well-Being by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones, p23
I'm actually going to add a couple of tweaks which should help encourage some gentle release throughout the length of your spine:
- Do support the back of your head with some paperback books or a folded towel. Tuck your chin to your chest and lengthen through the crown of your head so that the bony ridge at the back of your skull is on the support, and then relax in length
- Tilt your pelvis so that your belt buckle moves towards your chin and the small of your back is closer to the floor, then relax in length
- As the tension releases throughout your back, you may find you need to make micro adjustments to your position. If you have any sensation of discomfort, move to relieve this and then rest some more.
- Additionally, please may I suggest you get up from this position by rolling onto your side, and gently pushing yourself up to sitting rather than instantly engaging your abdominal muscles to ‘sit-up’.
5 reasons to take 5 each day:
- To release unnecessary tension - by lying still for as little as 10 minutes each day you can take time away from the hamster wheel of pressures and stresses of life
- To reconnect with your body - by checking in with your body on a daily basis you can become aware of areas of tightness or discomfort long before they become a ‘problem’, which means next time you come for a massage we can work with the areas which have been whimpering before they start shouting
- To increase balance and coordination - when we are in ‘neutral alignment’ (i.e. the head sits on top of the spine rather than jutting out in front) we are better able to move and function, and find we have better balance and coordination. By lying down to realign our spine, we can ‘reset’ our awareness of our centre of gravity
- To improve breathing - with so much sitting, it is easy for our shoulders to hunch forward and our rib cage to sag which reduced the room for our lungs. Again by lying down we can encourage our body to reset itself so that our lungs have as much room to move as they need.
- To give more length - counteract that 1cm loss in height each day
Adapted from Master the Art of Running - Raise your Performance with the Alexander Technique’ by Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields
I came across this posture when I was a child thanks to an Alexander Technique teacher, and since working as a massage therapist have had several clients who have found this beneficial. In reading a book called The Vital Psoas Muscle (which you are welcome to borrow from my lending library), I discovered that although it is a key element of AT, it’s much older than this and originates from the early part of the twentieth century when a lady called Mabel Todd was working to find an alternative to the strict military physical education of the time. Her Natural Posture formed part of her Ideokinesis which saw the concept of movement being used to improve muscular coordination through imagery. (If you are interested in the imagery you can use during this exercise, do read to the end). It was then named Constructive Rest Position in New York in the late 1920s by Lulu Sweigard, before being incorporated into both the work of Joseph Pilates and Frederick Matthias Alexander.
What’s not to love?
As a tall asthmatic who stands up for most of the day, this position is something I try to do each day and even if all I can manage between clients is 2 minutes I do feel better afterwards. The trick with it is that for a short while you aren’t ‘doing’ anything … rather you are ‘being’ in your body. If you enjoy meditating or mindfulness, this is a great posture to adapt whilst you are practicing.
- Close the eyes and envision the full length of the spine
- Imagine a line of energy travelling down the spine, then curving up between the legs, moving up the front of the body and back down the spine again
- A cyclical energy line is engaged; inhale as it flows down the spine, exhale as it comes up the front, not unlike a ‘zipper being pulled up to close a jacket’ around the torso
- Feel the weight of the head melt into the surface - not back, but in line with the neutral spine
- Relax and let the aligned vertebrae and pelvic bones support the body without using the muscles
- Feel as if the knees are draped over a hanger, the thighs hanging on one side, the lower legs on the other, with the hanger supported from above
- Bring mental attention to the thighs and imagine a small waterfall flowing down from the knees into the hip sockets, releasing the thigh muscles
- Imagine another waterfall trickling from the knees, down the shins, to the ankles. Take your time
- Feel the feet, as well as the eyes, relaxing in cool pools of water
- Repeat this full set of imagery over and over, slowly, for at least 10 minutes. When done, do not sit up, but simply roll over to one side and come to a sitting position slowly, so as not to disrupt any alignment achieved