Variations on Constructive Rest

In a previous blog post, The Best Way to Relax, I described the many benefits of Constructive Rest. Here, I wish to offer a few variations on the basic position, pictured at left. At different times, or because of your body type, you might find one of these variations more comfortable. And comfort is what we’re looking for here.

  • Try placing a small pillow under the head if you have a deep chest (thoracic kyphosis) or forward head. If you notice your chin is pointing towards the ceiling and your head is cocked back, you need a pillow. If you simply feel strain in your neck or back, try a pillow. It should be as small as possible to comfortably support your head and neck. The goal is to support your body’s neutral alignment in a comfortable, balanced way so that you can let go of all muscular holding.
  • If the backs of the hips are tight (this is true for many men), try lining up your knees with your hips and ankles rather than trying to force the knees together. Then cross the arms over your chest. If your legs stay in place on their own without drifting to the sides or falling open, this may be the optimal position for your body.
  • If you have a large chest, or if for any reason you are simply uncomfortable crossing your arms over the chest, try resting your arms about 45 degrees away from the trunk of your body with your palms facing up. Allow the weight of the arms to release into gravity.
  • You can loosely tie your thighs together with a scarf or theraband to keep legs from falling open.
  • If the floor feels hard or uncomfortable, try putting more padding down.
  • Sometimes a small pillow placed under the pelvis or low back may feel good.
  • Another approach to Constructive Rest is to prop the legs, bent 90 degrees at the hips and knees, onto a chair seat or sofa. Open the arms out to the sides, palms up, or cross your arms across your chest as in the basic position.

Whichever adaptation you choose, try lying in the same position for 10 minutes a day for a few days. Notice the difference in how you feel.


* Image provided by Ann F. Cowlin, Yale University, and Dancing Thru Pregnancy.

Degenerative Disc Disease – Neck and Back Pain

Is Degenerative Disc Disease Causing My Neck & Back Pain?

At the age of 42, after an MRI, I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease. I also had two bulging and one herniated disk. I went home, crawled into bed and cried, convinced that my body was aging beyond repair, and it would be all downhill from there. That was fear. Not fact.

What I now know and want to share with you is that degenerative disc disease may just be a normal part of aging, not a disease at all! “Consider the results of a major 2014 review by Brinjikji et al: signs of degeneration are present in very high percentages of healthy people with no problem at all. ‘Many imaging-based degenerative features are likely part of normal aging and unassociated with pain.*'”

The Bad News    

Yes, your neck or back hurts and your doctor just told you that you have a condition with the word “degenerative” in it. You can’t even bend down to feed the cat in the morning because your back is so stiff and painful. Or maybe your problem isn’t so much having back pain, but your foot is numb. Or you have pain, numbness or tingling in your buttocks, knee or calf. It’s been going on longer than you care to admit and nothing seems to make it better.

The Good News

Remember: that MRI is not the whole story. In fact studies show that there is a low correlation between a scary MRI and low back pain. “Low back pain experts have long understood that you simply cannot reliably diagnose low back pain either with MRI, or with X-ray.

Okay fine, you say, but you still have back pain, which is why you got the MRI in the first place. Here’s where the good news comes in. You can get better. More likely than not, you can return to a completely pain-free life. With the right treatment and a few targeted exercises, you can restore flexibility to your spine and become stronger than you’ve ever been. You will probably need to learn a few postural adaptations, especially at your computer, along the way.

The other good news is that this is a wake-up call while you’re still fairly young. Treatment might include gentle back and hip flexibility exercises using a gentle, healing breath to ease your body and mind. You might learn a few postural tips and appropriate core strengthening exercises. Later your treatment might include yoga back strengthening with other exercises to make your hips and legs stronger. You might find that not only do these exercises make your back feel better, you look better, too. And who doesn’t want that? With a stronger core, you might find you have more energy. (P.S. the core refers not only your belly muscles, but all of the muscles surrounding your pelvis – side hip muscles – glutei medii and minimi, the glutei maximii (your glutes), your pelvic floor and efficient, coordinated use of your breath with movement.) The strengthening usually comes after we’ve got a handle on your pain. (Beware treatments that load you up with weights for strengthening from the get go – I’ve had too many patients come to me after that kind of therapy. Their pain didn’t improve or sometimes it got worse.) Continue reading “Degenerative Disc Disease – Neck and Back Pain”