If you could learn and utilize a daily,
20-minute activity that would gain you renewed energy, easier balance,
increased efficiency in mental and physical activities, and lessened
pain and stress ... would you be interested? In an average day of 12
to 16 hours of uprightness, you will ask your body to expend a great
deal of energy. Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments not only use energy
to provide the force to move you through space, they are also in constant
demand to stabilize and maintain your vertical (upright) posture. A
brief, 20-minute period of horizontal rest allows overused, fatigued,
and painful muscles to release, the natural curves in your spine to
balance their forces, and a respite from any stresses in your day. The
Alexander Technique "lie-down" is a powerful tool of self-care that,
when included in your health and well-being regimen, can bring profound
improvements in your daily functioning.
The Alexander Technique lie-down is intended
as a tool of prevention. Used consistently, it can deter future misuses
of your structure that lead to painful imbalances. Although back pain
can often be alleviated during a lie-down, your 20-minute time will
yield a longer term health investment if you use it regularly, rather
than choosing to lie down only _after_ your pain has made you aware
It's recommended that you lie down in the
"position of mechanical advantage" at least once a day for 20 minutes;
preferably in the middle of the day. All of us have had to search for extra
time in the day to use for ourselves and often have difficulty finding
it! Try remembering your true motivation: "when practicing my ability to
stop and be present to myself, I can be truly present to others and to
my environment." Include the lie-down time as part of your daily routine
-- if you don't have 20 minutes, but you do have 10, then lie down for
10 minutes. If you can fit in more than one 20-minute lie-down, by all
means, lie down more than once in the course of your day. However, do not
lie down for longer than 20 minutes at a time. After 20 minutes, your body/mind
will begin to recognize the additional minutes as a cue that this is sleeptime,
rather than a short rest period.
If you are a musician, you will get more
value out of practice time if you lie down five minutes out of every half-hour
of playing time. If you do physical fitness training, lie down before you
work out to help prevent injury to over-fatigued muscles. Or lie down after
working out in order to rest and re-balance before dashing back to work.
If you do a lot of desk/computer work, set your timer for a five minute
lie-down every 1-1/2 to 2 hours. You'll probably find your aching shoulders
and neck releasing, as well as a refreshed outlook on your work tasks.
Having some trouble sleeping at night? You may want to lie down just before
getting into bed, although this should be in addition to another lie-down
time during the day.
- Find a quiet, draft-free place on
the floor or a large flat table (conference tables work well!). Lie
on a carpet, a blanket, or an exercise mat--do not use a bed. (It
is the even and firm stimulus of the floor that will help your back
rebalance; beds will compress at the heavier parts of your torso,
such as your shoulders and hips.) You will also need a small pile
of paperback books to rest your head on. Start by sitting on your
sit bones with your legs extended in front of you. They can be bent,
but do not cross them. You arms are in your lap or released with your
hands by your sides.
- Lean forward easily over your legs
by moving from your hip joints. Think of the crown of your head extending
out over your feet. Your arms should be relaxed at your sides. Your
spine will be lengthening. (Check to make sure you are not aiming
your nose for your knees; you will probably feel this as a crunching
of your spine.) When you feel that your lower back has lengthened
slightly, let your head drop forward from the top of your neck and
begin to roll back to lie down. Your hips will go down first, then
your back, then your shoulders and head. This movement is done smoothly
and easily. It is not a test of the strength of your abdominal muscles;
just let your stomach muscles release as you roll back. Reach back
and move the pile of books so that the base of your skull rests on
them. The books should not touch your neck; rather your neck hangs
freely. You may want to use a folded washcloth as a pad if you have
a bumpy ridge at the base of your skull.
- The pile of books under your head
should be high enough to fill the space made by the natural curve
in your neck. There is a slight forward rotation of your head in relation
to your neck. If you feel your jaw is pressing on your throat, you
have too many books under your head. If your eyes seem to be looking
behind you or your head is rotating backward on your neck, you have
too few books under your head. Experiment with the height of the book
pile; it will change over time and may even change within the 20 minutes
you are lying there. Using a number of thinner books allows you to
easily change the height of the pile.
- After a few seconds of letting your
entire body weight settle into the floor, bring your forearms up so
that your elbows are directed away from your sides and your hands
are resting on your lower ribs. Let your hands lay rested on your
torso with fingers extended. Think about letting the full weight of
your arms rest on the floor.
- Bring your legs up one at a time so
that your knee is pointing up to the ceiling and your foot is flat
on the floor. Your legs should be about shoulder-width apart and your
feet are as close to your rear as is comfortable. Rather than "holding"
the legs up by squeezing in the groin and pulling the knees together,
let them point up to the ceiling the same distance apart as your feet.
If you like, you can turn your feet out slightly.
- After you bring your legs up, your
spine will lengthen slightly. You may wish to push the pile of books
back a bit. They should be under your head and not touching your neck,
which hangs free.
- Bring your mind to allowing your body
weight to settle into the floor. Let the full weight of your head
rest on the pile of books. Notice where you are holding onto the muscles
of your body and think about letting them release their unnecessary
work. Let your breathing be easy and regular. During the 20 minutes,
let your mind regularly return to these observations; when you notice
yourself "holding on," think about letting your head's weight rest
completely on the pile of books once again and release yoru full body
weight onto the floor.
- After 20 minutes, get up by rolling
your head to the side, followed by your arms and shoulders, then hips
and legs. Bring yourself onto hands and knees and slowly bring yourself
to standing. Remember to breathe easily during this sequence, holding
your breath will lock up your newly released and balanced torso and
will make movement more difficult.
(Text written by Beth Stein.)