Archive for the ‘Relaxation’ Category

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.