Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Resting the back is great for desk-bound people

Challenge yourself by lying for a few minutes on the floor in “constructive rest” position. It will relieve back and neck strain from sitting at a desk for too long. You will become aware of areas that tense up.

Do it frequently

I can recommend semi-supine, also known as constructive rest, at least daily. Sometimes I do it for 5 minutes, sometimes 20. I am amazed by the different things I learn each time. As I recovered from a minor operation recently, it helped put me in tune with my body.

Lying there

You lie with your head on a few books, knees up off the floor and hip width apart, feet pointing straight out, and hands loose on your tummy. This all contributes to opening up your body. Change things if you are not comfortable. Book height should allow front and back of your neck to be free.
Raising the head on books encourages a very slight lengthening of the neck. Having knees up flattens out the curve in the lower back. Placing hands softly on your tummy allows the shoulders to open. In this position, the deep postural muscles of the back can resume their proper supporting role; the large superficial back muscles can let go.
Most of us have lost the ability to lie as freely as this child.
So use books and place hands on the tummy.
Image: Maryna Pleshkun/shutterstock

Getting onto and off the floor - principles are important

Detailed instructions are given in many books, and on-line guides. If these confuse you, remember key principles of Alexander Technique – the head should lead the body in and out of the position; and allow the neck to be free.

What to do once in semi-supine

For at least some time, have your eyes open and restful but not fixed. Try and remain alert without moving – if cats can do it, so can we (says Elizabeth Langford).

Observe your body. Think about possible changes, rather than ‘doing’ them.

-          your breathing
-          the points of contact with the floor
-          areas of tightness
-          differences between the left and right side - arms, legs and torso
-          where your joints are – check in an anatomy book or on-line - and how released or tight they feel

Benefits supreme

There are many benefits from regular use of semi-supine. I have grouped them into four categories.
1.       Frequent practice will bring more rapid release of unnecessary muscular tension.
2.       If you remain mentally alert, instead of falling asleep, you will freshen up, and be ready for activity again. Your mind can quieten. If you listen to music, you can still focus in repeatedly on what is happening.
3.       It gives you a great reference point for daily activities. In standing or sitting, our bodies are constantly rebalancing to stay upright. Most of us subtly over-use some muscles and under-use others. You begin to notice something different each time – a release across the shoulders, tension in one leg, a soreness across the lower back.
4.       Our breathing and voice can benefit. The rib cage muscles release, along with the back muscles, because they are connected to the spine. Release in the neck and jaw can free the voice.
5.       Should you take Alexander Technique lessons, semi-supine reinforces what you learn – an increasing ability to identify habits and associated tension, inhibit those habits, and give yourself alternative ways of doing daily tasks.

What about lying the other way up – in prone position?

Yes, this is valuable for achieving much the same benefits. Missy Vineyard gives detailed instructions, and argues that it has some advantages over semi-supine. I have been trying 5 minutes in semi-supine and then 5 minutes in prone.
Barbara Conable argues that humans are designed for short bursts of activity, with periods of rest in between. So she recommends at least five minutes of semi-supine several times each day. But do try longer sometimes, perhaps 15 – 20 minutes. Sometimes it takes this long for me to really feel much release.
These people just couldn't wait till they got home


This information is not a substitute for the advice of a teacher of Alexander Technique, which will be tailored to your needs. If you have a medical condition, talk to your medical practitioner first before attempting it.


Here are some of the books I used in compiling this blog. It is interesting to read the many ways in which semi-supine is described. I have copies of the first book for sale, and can possibly get others for you.
·         Karen Chapman and Kate Morris (2010) Yoga and the Alexander Technique. (Self-published) Karen Chapman, Albion Queensland. pp.36-40. A great introduction to semi-supine, with useful instructions and an outline of the benefits.
·         Barbara and William Conable (1995) How to learn the Alexander Technique : A Manual for Students 3rd Edn. Andover Press, Portland, USA. p.113.
·         Pedro de Alcantara (1999) The Alexander Technique : A Skill for Life. Ramsbury, UK. pp. 47-8. He makes it seem very easy and worth doing, and even talks about being able to make phone calls and read while in the position (of course, once you have mastered it!)
·         Jane Heinrich (2005) Voice and the Alexander Technique : Active Explorations for Speaking and Singing. Mornum Time Press, Berkeley, USA. Pp.49-51,80-85. Heinrich includes exercises for voice while lying in semi-supine.
·         Elizabeth Langford (2008) Mind and Muscle: An Owner’s Handbook. 2nd Edn. Garant, Antwerpen Belgium. pp.195-9. She gives a very cogent explanation of how the position can help undo the awkward things we may have asked our bodies to do during the day. The lengthy steps to getting in and out of the position need to be tempered by her advice to do this quickly and naturally.
·         Missy Vineyard (2007) How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live : Learning the Alexander Technique. Da Capo Press, Philadelphia, USA. pp.41-48. An innovative look at both semi-supine position, and its opposite, lying in prone position – both means of releasing the back.


Jennifer Roig-Francolí said...

This is wonderful advice! Thanks for posting this!

Aino said...

Lovely! Such nice pictures, and really informative.