14 March

Layers of Relaxation

If you have ever taken a vacation, you may have noticed that is takes time to relax.  Depending on how busy your schedule has been leading up to the vacation, it may take a few days to weeks to feel like you are finally yourself again.  We are so good at getting through the day’s activities; work, school and family obligations, that it is sometimes hard to notice all the muscular tension that adds up on our bodies like plaque on our teeth.


For example, guess one of the main body parts that tend to hold your daily tensions?  Hopefully, you guessed the shoulders.  In working with people and movement during the day, I notice the shoulders up in the ears syndrome a lot.  I often bring the phenomenon to the attention of my students, and their shoulders will immediately drop 2-4 inches.  You may think that one reminder of the shoulders being tense is all that is required.  Alas, it is not.  For most people, you could remind them that their shoulders are tense every 30 seconds for an hour, and then, just maybe they would begin to notice their holding tension.


Muscular tension is a challenging partner in your body.  Once you notice it, and then release it; it tends to come right back the moment you reach for the phone.  I remember spending so much time teaching myself to release the tension in my shoulders.  I would start by being aware of the tension and then asking my shoulders to release.  Immediately after the first release of tension, I would ask my shoulders if there was any more tension to release.  Astonishingly, there was always more tension to release.  I remember being in bed and starting to fall asleep.  Which when you think of it, you think you would be pretty relaxed while about to fall asleep.  Well, being curious, I asked my shoulders if they were relaxed and what do you think?  No, they were not.  I was amazed.  I began to realize that I had layers of tension in my body.  Even when I thought I was relaxed, there was still more release to be done.


So, why is release of muscular tension important?  Of course, some tension is necessary to hold the bones in proper alignment move and stand upright.  The amount of tension needed to accomplish these basic tasks is minimal.  In fact, it would be hard for you to feel.  In comparison to the amount of chronic tension we hold in our bodies.  Chronic tension can lead to chronic pain or injury.  Chronic tension can also minimize our range of motion and our coordination.  So, if you decide to go workout with an already tense body, you are increasing your risk of injury.  A teacher of mine once said in class,  “you can put a bigger engine in a car with a broken transmission, and it will run, but for how much longer?”


One tool I have found to release tension and restore balance in the body is called Constructive Rest.  I first learned it from Eric Franklin.  It was developed by  Mabel Todd and then Lulu Sweigard.  They along with Barbara Clark are the founders of a body of work called Ideokinesis.  It is a term to describe the relationship between ideas and movement, or the nervous system, and muscles.  Today, Constructive Rest, has become very popular in Alexander Technique.


Franklin describes in his book “Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery”, that Todd called the position hook lying.  Sweigard choose to call it the constructive rest position because it more fully describes the goal of the exercise, which is to create a means of resting the body so it can release the muscular tension that happens when you stand.  Being supine, or back down on the floor, changes your relationship to gravity by spreading the body horizontally on the floor.  The surface area of your body in relationship to gravity increases in this supine position, and this helps to more fully connect your body to gravity and thus release muscle tension.


Below is a description of a Constructive Rest Position by Andre Bernard. He was a student of Barbara Clark’s He taught dancers and actors about alignment and movement all over the world.  He was particularly know for his contributions in the Dance Department at Tisch School of the Arts in New York .  He taught there from 1965, until his death in 2003.

Constructive Rest Position

To find the optimum Constructive Rest Position, Todd and Sweigard took a skeleton that had no muscular representation, only ligamentous representation, and balanced it in the constructive rest position.  One of the things that we do in the position is to bend the legs, flex at the knees.  The reason we bend the legs is because when you straighten out the legs, the weight of the legs against the front of the pelvis tends to tilt it down in front.  That increases the anterior tilt of the pelvis.  It has a normal tilt, but you do not want to increase it.  By flexing the legs it lessens that tendency and makes the position much more efficient.  When you increase the tilt of the pelvis there, it puts a stress on the lower back and lumbar curve.


The next thing we do it put a tie on the legs to keep the legs from falling out.  The tie takes the place of muscle work.  Let the legs rest against the tie.  Then we put a little cushion under the balls of the feet.  We also put a little support under the skull.  When you put the balls of the feet on a support, it tends to make it easier for the back and the thighs to release.  Your arms resting on the body is fine.  You can also support the underneath side of the elbow or shoulder.  Put support under the head to bring the cervical spine in line with the rest of the spine.  Some people will need more or less cushions than others.  The goal is to feel perfectly relaxed.  When you find your perfect position, resist the urge to move for the duration of the exercise.  Moving tends to pull you out of your body and distract you from releasing your tension.  Find your comfortable position and notice your breath and the weight of your body in relationship to the floor.  When you have done that, you can add imagery.


Imagery for Constructive Rest

The classic image for a Constructive Rest is to imagine that you are a suit of clothing being spread out on a surface.  I like to imagine a clean sheet being lifted into the air and slowly falling on the bed before it is made.  Another popular image is to imagine your body filled with sand, and slowly letting the sand falling out of your body and onto the floor.


Which ever image you choose, you want to start with the back of your pelvis falling into the floor, then the femurs falling into the pelvis and then onto the floor.  Move to the lower leg releasing and then the feet, even the toes.  Release the back of the spine, spreading out to the shoulders, down the arms and fingers.  Notice the back of the neck and head release as well.  Go through this process of release with your body at lease twice.  If you have chronic tension, this would be an exercise you would want to do at least once a day.  You can start with just a few minutes and work up to a half hour.


Constructive Rest is an amazing tool for creating body awareness, and decreasing tension.  In my own experience, I have found Constructive Rest a very annoying exercise.  Mainly, because I do not feel like I am doing anything.  That is the point.  The constructive rest, or sometimes called active rest, is doing more for you than a bowl of broccoli.  Besides releasing tension in the body, it also helps create space and alignment in the joints, and gives your nervous system the sense of what it would be like to be effortlessly in alignment.  Who could ask for more?  Try it a few times before you make your own conclusions.  You made need some time to warm up to the idea of doing nothing for so much.

Cats have a natural sense of Constructive Rest.  Picture by David Gelphman.




Bernard, Andre.  Ideokinesis; A Creative Approach to Human Movement and Body Alignmant.  North Altantic Books.  Berkeley, CA. 2006.


Franklin, Eric.  Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery.  Human Kinetics. Champagne, IL. 1996.

1 January

The Shoulder


The Amazing Moveable Shoulder Girdle

Your shoulder girdle is one of the most movable and capable joints in your body.  Unlike the hip joint that is the typical ball and socket joint that allows you to stand and walk all day long,  the shoulder girdle does not have as much stability as the hip socket.  What it lacks in stability, it makes up for in mobility.  The shoulder girdle is designed to be strong, but more so, to move in all possible directions.  Try moving your leg in all directions, then move your arm in all directions.  Do you notice a difference?

Anatomy of the Shoulder Joint

The shoulder is made up of three bones that create what is called the glenohumeral joint.  The bones that create the shoulder are the humerus, scapula and clavicle.  The only bone to bone connection is at the sternoclavicular joint, where the sternum and clavicle connect.  The scapula lies on top of the ribcage connected by soft tissue, and the humerus lies in the glenohumeral joint cushioned by the subacrominal bursa under the acromion.  See picture below.

Movement of the Glenohumeral Joint

As mentioned before, the movements of this joint are highly complex and therefore need to be well coordinated in order to prevent injury.  The first thing to know about your shoulder girdle before you start to move it, is that it is a lever system.  As your arm moves upward, something needs to counter the action by moving downward.  In this case, the scapula needs to move downward.  In the Pilates world, we call this anchoring the shoulder girdle.   Anchoring means allowing the shoulder girdle to drop down toward the pelvis, and open the front of the shoulder girdle.  Looking at yourself from the front, when you anchor your shoulder girdle, your shoulders are not in your ears and your clavicles are parallel to the ground.  This is an anchored and neutral position of the shoulder girdle.

Once you find this neutral anchored position of the shoulder girdle, you are ready to move.  There is so much movement in the shoulder girdle, that it is designed with three changing axis of movement.  The axis of movement changes as you want to increase your range of motion.  So, your coordination and understanding of this joint is paramount.

The first axis of movement is the humerus rotating around the scapula at the glenohumeral joint.  The second axis of movement is the scapula rotating around the clavicle at the acromioclavicular joint.  These two axis of movement bring your arm to a little above ninety degrees to the ground.  The last axis of movement is the clavicle rotating upward at the strenoclavicular joint.  This brings your arm over the top of your head like Caroline’s serve on the title page.  Take a moment to move your arm from by your side to over your head and see if you can feel the change of axis of movement.  First, the humerus, then the scapula and lastly, the clavicle.  Without using all three, you will have a decrease in your range of motion, or potential for injury.












Rotator Cuff

No shoulder class is complete without talking about the rotator cuff.  The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that connect from various points on the scapula to the humerus.  The rotator cuff coordinates the movements of the scapula and the humerus.  As you may have realized from the last portion of the class, that means that this group of muscles need to be well versed in the movements of the glenohumeral joint.  The four muscles of the rotator cuff are the teres minor, the supraspinatus, infraspinatur and subscapularus.  The first letter of each of these spells out the work sits.  Sometimes this

group of muscles is referred to as the sits muscles.  The only muscle that is not shown in the picture is the subscapularus that lies underneath the scapula.

To make sure that these muscles are working correctly.  Make sure the you stick to the three axis of movement.  The two axis of movement that often do not get used to their fullest are the movement of the scapula and clavicle.  So,  when you move your shoulder, make sure you allow the scapula and then the clavicle to move.  If you notice that it is not easy to get your scapula to move, you may want to add some scapula exercises to your exercise regime.  Bring your arms in front of you, parallel to the ground with palms facing each other.  Keep the arms long, and bring the scapula together and apart.   Also check that your shoulders are anchored most of the day, and that you incorporate all three axis of movement in the shoulder girdle.  These types should keep your shoulders happy and healthy for years!


16 December

The Reiki Experience

Last year we focused on the basics of how the body works.  We did anatomy and started with the feet and moved our way up the body to the shoulder and neck.  This year, the focus has been on alternative ways to sense your body.  We did a heart workshop in February.  In March, the studio organized Reiki training, and April was about the energy of various stones.  It is interesting what is showing up in the Art of Mastering Movement.   There are many levels and layers to the human experience.  They seem to revel themselves with appropriate timing, and as you allow them to.  I will continue to write about the workshops here at the studio.  I am just not able to predict at this time what they may be about.


Continuing with the idea of things being revealed to you in the appropriate time, I found this article on Reiki from the Wall Street Journal in March.  I thought I would include it here to give you a sense of what Reiki is and how it is used in the world.  It is simple and profound at the same time.  Below is the article called “A Touch of Massage Therapy”, by Laura Johannes and printed on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.


Reiki, a therapy in which hands are placed lightly on the body or just above it, is increasingly being used to reduce cancer-related fatigue, anxiety, nausea and pain.  Several studies suggest a benefit to patients, but scientists say more large, rigorous studies are needed.


Cancer patients – due to the disease and to side effects of chemotherapy – often suffer from severe mental and physical fatigue, doctor’s say.  Anxiety, nausea and pain are also common.  In recent years, many cancer centers have been offering Reiki, a form of healing which originated in Japan in the early 1900’s, according to scientific literature.  In a session of Reiki, hands are placed lightly on the body.  Each spot is treated for three minutes or longer and sometimes therapists place their hands just above the body without touching, says Donah Drewett, a Fairlee, Vt. Based Reiki therapist who works at Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, N.H.


Extra care is needed with cancer patients.  Therapists must avoid sensitive areas on the body such as ports used to administer medications, doctors and therapists say.  The gentleness of Reiki is appealing to cancer patients, many of who are too ill to tolerate a deep tissue massage, doctors say.


Reiki is often described as a treatment that helps life energy to flow in a patient – an explanation not generally accepted by scientists.  Barrie Cassileth, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, calls the energy theory “absurd” but says light touch therapy can have a “great relaxing effect” on cancer patients “who are constantly poked, prodded and given needles.”


Adds Deborah Steele, manager of patient and family support services: “How it works is a mystery, but we see anecdotally the amount of delight” it brings to patients.


Some scientists think the benefits may be as simple as the warmth of human tough and the feeling that someone is caring for you.


At Memorial Sloan Ketering, treatment for inpatients is available at no extra charge; outpatients pay $90 to $110 a session.  At Norris Cotton, trained volunteers administer treatments free of charge.  Insurance typically doesn’t pay for Reiki.


Other centers don’t offer Reiki, citing insufficient evidence.  “There isn’t a good evidence base for its utility in cancer care as of yet,” says Lorenzo Cohen, a professor in the departments of general oncology and behavioral science at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.


David S Rosenthal, medical director of the Leonard P Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at Dana Farber Center Institute in Boston, co-authored a January study on Reiki that was published in Cancer.   The study found twice weekly, 50-minute sessions reduced anxiety in 18 men with prostate cancer, but the benefit wasn’t statistically significant compared with a control group.  A larger study is needed to determine if a benefit exists, Dr. Rosenthal says.  “The evidence for Reiki is still slim, but there are trends and we have to show whether those trends are real,” he says.


A 2004 study of 1,290 cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering found a light touch massage, standard Swedish massage and foot massage all helped symptoms including pain, depression anxiety, nausea and fatigue; the study didn’t have a control group.  In a 16 person study published in 2007 in Integrative Cancer Therapies, a team of Canadian scientists found five daily Reiki sessions of about 45 minutes improved quality of life and general well being reported by cancer patients on a 28 question survey significantly more than resting for about the same period.  Study co-author Linda E Carlson, a psychologist and an associate professor in the oncology division at the University of Calgary, says she thinks it is possible that a good rapport between the Reiki therapist and the patients could be the reason for the positive result.  This is the conclusion of the article.


To continue, last week we finished our part two of level one Reiki workshop.  In that workshop we got to do hands on work on each other.  We had six people doing Reiki on one person at a time.  We all had the best of intentions and the most positive outlook possible.  The experience was amazing.  The work is simple, profound and mysterious.  It could be that six positively minded people are putting their attention on you that it feels good.  It could be because of the ancient symbols that the practitioners are channeling.  I think it is most likely a combination of both.  Everyone in the room was transformed by the experience, both the person being worked on and the people doing the work.  We were all giddy, excited, calm and relaxed.  We could have gone on for hours.  In fact the class ended two hours later. I feel we had the same conclusion as the article.  Reiki works, but I am not sure why it works.  Some things may be better left unanswered, or maybe by doing the work the answers someday may be revealed.