Constructive/Active Rest

Constructive/Active Rest

One of the first exercises you learn when taking an Alexander Technique lesson is Constructive or Active Rest. Personally, constructive rest has saved me on multiple occasions. When I am exhausted, I use it. If I feel tight, I use it. If I feel pain, I use it. In this post you will get a run down of what it is, and how it can be used to help you both relax, and reboot your body.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Johnson,

First of all, what is it? The position of Constructive Rest is done by lying on your back on the floor or a massage table (if you happen to have one) or a carpet. Place a nice paperback book under your head. (Start off with a 1″ thick book). You can try out different books and see what makes you feel the most at ease. I myself don’t use anything beyond 1/2″ nowadays. There are many teachers who have written about the process of Constructive Rest. Megan Johnson has a great one here. Below I have my process:

      1. Place a small soft book under your head and lay down on your back.
      2. Bend your knees; feet flat on the floor
      3. Bend elbows, and put your palms face down on your belly.
      4. With Eyes open; notice what you see…smell, hear, taste, touch.
      5. Notice if there is any excess tension in your body, and see if you can allow it to melt into the floor.
      6. Give yourself the Alexander Mental Directions
        • I’m allowing my neck to be free
        • So that my head can float forward and out
        • So that my Back can LENGTHEN and WIDEN
        • So that my Legs can fall out of my torso and down into my feet.
      7. Repeat steps 4-6 again and again for 10-20 minutes (or whatever you have time
        for) as often as possible!

Many of my students say they have a hard time feeling as good doing constructive rest at home by themselves as they do in my studio. It is a plus having an Alexander trained teacher there to put hands on your body. After all, they have studied this for a minimum of 1600 hours, and that’s not including the time they were a student before and after formal schooling. So…if you are beating yourself up because you are not having the same results as you are in lessons…cool it! Pause. Reboot yourself. And here are some tips.

If your shoulders are feeling stuck on the floor–give yourself a gentle hug and rock from side to side (keeping your head on the book and free). Slowly, one arm at a time, allow your hand to travel back to constructive rest position.

If your hips are feeling tight or stuck–move them. Adjust them. You can move in constructive rest! Lift them up, and put them back down. Another thing you might try is letting your right leg fall down flat. Wobbling it back and forth, and bringing it back into position. Do the same thing with the left leg. Does that feel better?

What are your feet doing? Are your toes scrunched? Do they feel like they are pulling up into your foot? Can you release them into the ground like they are softening down into sand? Does that feel better? Do you notice a change in your whole body when you do that?

Is the position of your feet helping you or making it more difficult? In Constructive rest, your feet should be about shoulder width apart, and about the length of your hand away from your booty. If your feet are close together, they are not giving you a good foundation to rest into, and it will be hard to sustain the position. Your legs will want to fall in or out. Play around with different places to put your feet that allow you to relax your legs, and send the weight of your legs into your feet (especially into your BIG TOE).

As you do constructive rest, gravity pushing down on you will naturally and organically cause you to spread out on the floor (lengthening and widening). However, because you are lying down, the friction of the floor does hold onto your back and pelvis, and so as you make more space in your body, your body will ask you to move. Again, if you feel like moving–then do! The point of the Alexander Technique is not to be ‘right’ but to ‘feel better.’ Do what feels better. Not what feels ‘comfortable’ or ‘habitual,’ but what makes you feel more at ease.

Why should I do Constructive Rest?

    1. You feel anxious or stressed.
      Often when I am in “Get it Done Mode” my body becomes subtly, or not so subtly, tense. If I can wake up and become aware of it, and I have an extra 2 minutes to spare, I will get down on the floor, throw a book under my head, and allow myself to melt into the floor. It is amazing how this simple act can change my entire perspective, and allow me to get things done more smoothly, with less effort, and possibly with a little fun.
    2. You are exhausted, or just tired.
      We get tired. We as a society are overcommitted and overworked. We need to rest much more throughout the day than we allow time for. Not everyone has a chance to nap, and for many people, a nap leaves you feeling groggy for some time afterwards. Constructive Rest is an excellent tool to allow your body to become rejuvenated and relaxed all at the same time. Why is this? “Disc pressure and stress on the lumbar spine are at its lowest when lying in the supine position” says Dr. Nabil Ebrahaim, Chairman of Orthopedics at the University of Toledo.
    3. You feel pain in some part of your body.
      Whenever I feel a pain in my body, I am tempted to focus solely on that part. However, I know thru experience, that it is in dealing with my whole body that usually allows that pain to go away. I get into constructive rest, and start giving my whole self the Alexander Mental Directions. More often than not, after 20 minutes, the pain I was feeling has dissipated, and if I pay attention to how I am moving up getting up from constructive rest, it does not return.
    4. You want to meditate, but when you do, you become so tense that the meditation is impossible.
      Many of my students have picked up on the fact, that constructive rest is a form of meditation. It feels ‘meditative.’ What gives it this quality? Partially it is the repetition of the mental directions, but also it is the clarity that often comes from releasing excess tension from the body. If you have a meditation that you like, (like feeding all thoughts and feelings into a flame or a flower)…do your meditation…but do it in the constructive rest position. Is it easier for you? More effective?

Constructive rest can be done anywhere at any time of the day, and all you need is to have a small paperback book with you. Can you get better and better at using this position as a tool? You bet! Wanna know how? Book a lesson with an AmSat Certified Alexander Technique teacher so they can teach you how. If you want one with me, go to the book now button at the top of the page. If I am not in your area, you can find a certified teacher almost anywhere in the world. In America, go to: AmSat online’s website to find one near you.

Keep practicing! You’ll get better and better at it, and it will become a godsend tool for you to relieve exhaustion, stress and pain, and to help you think more clearly and use your body with ease!

If you have questions for me, please leave them in the comments…and let me know how it’s going for you! I would love to help and hear from you!



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