When you are suffering from neck, back, hip or shoulder pain, even if you’re just plain tired, Constructive Rest, practiced just 10 minutes a day, is the way to go.
Constructive Rest, pictured below, is a resting position of the body, in which the arms and legs are supported rather than held by the muscles of the neck and spine. By relieving the spine of the weight of the legs at their articulation with the trunk, the pelvis, trunk muscles, fascia and internal organs are also given a chance to rest. As the weight of the arms across the chest presses into the articulation of the shoulders where they meet the trunk, chronically tight and overworked neck, shoulder and back muscles are given an opportunity to reset, too.
Basic Position: open your feet hip-width apart with the heels outside the toes in a slightly pigeon-toed position. Let your knees fall together so your legs support one another. Cross and drape your arms one over the other, resting them on your chest like empty coat sleeves. Your hands should be relaxed and open, falling off the arms.*
In The Thinking Body, Mabel Todd, who originated Constructive Rest, recommends it for “relieving the spine from strain of leg weights and favoring a return of blood to heart.”² She describes how, throughout nature, cycles of work are always followed by a dynamic pause, or rest. Different from sleep, these dynamic rest periods are intrinsic to life — from the tiniest cells to the heart, lungs, digestive and neuromuscular systems. The moment of rest and silence in the lub dub of the heart is when the heart’s atrial chambers fill with oxygenated blood in preparation for the next squeeze of the heart, which then sends newly oxygenated blood out to each and every cell in the body. It is a dynamic pause.
Lulu Sweigard, a student of Todd’s, wrote in the Human Movement Potential that “the distribution of its structural weight should balance the body so that no muscle work need be added to maintain equilibrium in the position.”³ What we are seeking to accomplish with Constructive Rest, then, is to bring the body into effortless mechanical equilibrium.
Constructive Rest creates an opportunity for the spinal curves, from head to tailbone, from left to right, to relax and lengthen onto the even surface of a supportive ground. Tense muscles, tissues, joints and organs throughout the body can relax and literally unwind from the demands of maintaining an upright position against gravity.
Remember, the point is to be absolutely comfortable and use as little muscular effort as possible to maintain the position. If you don’t find this position comfortable, perhaps another variation on Constructive Rest might work better for you.
Practicing Constructive Rest only 10 minutes a day has delicious effects. By supporting your body in dynamic relaxation, you can unwind from pain and fatigue while you tune into your breath and your body, relax and let go.**
NOTES AND REFERENCES
* Try not to forcefully bend your arms or hold your arms in place by gripping with your hands.
** Other benefits may be similar to those of meditation and yoga where lowered stress levels, decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, improved mood and energy levels are well documented. However, to discuss these bonus effects is beyond the scope of this article.
¹ Image provided by Ann F. Cowlin, Yale University, and Dancing Thru Pregnancy.
² Todd, Mabel Elsworth, The Thinking Body: A Study of the Balancing Forces of Dynamic Man, Dance Horizons, Incorporated, 1937, p.290.
³ Sweigard, Lulu E., Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1974, p. 216