It’s mid-April. For those of in the academic and music performance cycles, that means BUSY. With concerts, finals, and an increasing number of commitments, it’s easy to feel like there just isn’t any downtime. I try to build periods of rest into my life, but some days, all I can get is ten minutes. What can I do with ten minutes that could possibly have an impact on my overall stress and fatigue?
One of the key concepts of the Alexander Technique is “inhibition,” a word that in this context really just means to stop, to prevent ourselves from making an action, taking the time to think. It’s the small space that gives one the opportunity to choose: do I follow my habitual way of doing things, or do I make a new choice? In that choice, to paraphrase Viktor Frankl, is our freedom – freedom from busy-ness, overwhelm, strain, stress. If my habit is to “push through” these busy times, making the choice to stop and literally lie down is a powerful antidote!
Constructive Rest is a body-mind practice that gives you time to pause in your busy day, and allows the whole body a chance to release, letting gravity help with the lengthening of the spine and widening of the back. It’s a chance for a “reset.” It’s the next best thing you can do to having an Alexander Technique lesson, and supports the process of change between lessons. Constructive rest is also a great way to begin vocal warm-ups! We do constructive rest in nearly every class in the course I teach for musicians at IU Jacobs School of Music. While it’s “just laying on the floor,” the students say it is one of their favorite parts of the class!
Constructive rest is one of my places of refuge in the midst of a busy life. After a long car trip, or in the early afternoon while my tea is steeping, I find constructive rest to be amazingly rejuvenating! five to ten minutes on the floor does wonders to alleviate fatigue in body and mind.
To practice constructive rest, also known as Semi-Supine or “having a lie-down,” find yourself a firm but comfortable surface. That can be a carpeted floor, a yoga mat, or a fleece blanket. You need the firmness for support, so avoid beds or other things that sink under your weight. You’ll also want a paperback book to rest your head on. The book thickness that is comfortable for you will be individual: something high enough so that your head is going “forward and up” in relation to your torso, and so the occipital (head-neck) joint is not compressed, but you don’t want the book so thick that you feel tightness under the chin. Many people start with something around one inch thick, and then experiment by raising or lowering the height until they find something that works. Place your feet on the floor, about hip-width apart, with your knees pointed toward the ceiling.
Remain in this semi-supine position for as long as is comfortable, five to fifteen minutes. It’s a great place to think, or to simply be, though it’s not a nap! Allow your eyes to be gently open, gazing at the ceiling. (If you’re so tired that you fall asleep, just take a nap instead!)
Practicing awareness as you rest, you will gain even more benefit. Here are some things to think and notice:
1. Allow the neck to be free, letting your head rest on the book. Notice the places where you make contact with the floor: shoulder blades, upper arms, elbows, ribs, pelvis, soles of feet. Allow each of those places to rest, and you’ll notice that your back begins to lengthen of its own accord. Let gravity be your friend!
2. Allow the knees to release toward the ceiling, as the top of each femur (thigh bone) rests in the hip socket, and each foot rests on the floor. Feel the muscles in the low back release as you think of the hip joints resting toward the back of the pelvis.
3. Resting your hands on your low ribs, at your sides, or at the top of the hips, notice the width across the shoulder girdle, from side to side across the collar bones in front, and across the shoulder blades in back. Notice the movement of breath as you rest, allowing the ribs and abdominal muscles to move.
4. You might also notice any thoughts or emotions that are in your attention. Notice them; let them shift or change. Are they connected to something you’re observing in your body?
5. Return to noticing each area and the whole, allowing your self to release into length, width, and ease.
Practicing constructive rest on a regular basis can have huge benefits: more peace of mind, more ease in your body, less pain and strain, less fatigue… Try it for several days in a row, and see what you discover!