Category Archives: Rest

37 Sleep Cures Many Things

Sleep cures many things. bearcat  sleeping in tree

Many years ago a doctor said this to me. I have never forgotten it.

I don’t think the doc meant lack of sleep itself is the direct cause of most of our ailments. I think he meant many things we suffer from are made worse by not getting adequate sleep.

We may wear our immune system down with lack of sleep and then be more susceptible to contracting the cold or flu that is going around the office. Or we may already have a cold and our lack of sleep makes it linger on that much longer. Or we may have a chronic condition that we have to live with and manage and lack of sleep makes it that much more difficult to deal with.

I originally started to study with an Alexander teacher in 1995 because I had been suffering from chronic neck, shoulder and upper back pain for about 6 years. Although I was diagnosed with a condition related to Fibromyalgia, a lot of the pain was due to postural and tension issues—things that I could affect positively through learning and applying the skills of the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique helped and continues to help me a great deal. What is also very important though is that I get adequate sleep. Because if I do not get adequate sleep over a period of time, my posture suffers, excess tension creeps in and I can slip into a pain cycle.

When you are tired your muscles don’t work as well to hold you up and you literally droop. That drooping pulls you out of shape and stresses your body. When you droop it affects your ability to breathe efficiently. When we don’t breathe efficiently you don’t get as much oxygen to your cells as otherwise. And you need adequate oxygen to fuel all the systems of your body.

Over the years some people have tried to convince me that you can train yourself to need less sleep. I have not found that to be the case with myself. I need between 8 ½ and 9 hours of sleep a night. I know that because if I let myself sleep without an alarm clock for a week or two I almost without fail wake up after 8 ½ or 9 hours.

I have chosen to make sleep one of my top priorities. Because I don’t like it when I am in pain and I know that lack of sleep contributes to pain for me.

Making sleep a top priority for me means…

  • I do not stay up late to get one more thing done on my to do list.
  • I listen to my body. When it is tired I don’t continue reading or watching that TV program for another ½ hour. I turn off the light and shut my eyes.
  • I don’t answer the phone after 9 o’clock.

And it means I wake up at an advantage and not a disadvantage when it comes to working on my posture.

Photo courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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28 New Year New Habit

Picture1This is the time of year that many of us make New Year’s Resolutions. Often our resolutions are a desire to establish new healthy habits—“I’ll start working out 6 days a week” or “I’m going to eat less sugar” or “I’m going to make Alexander Technique Constructive Rest a 20 minute practice every day—starting today!”

More often than not we don’t succeed with our resolutions. We fail so often that it is the butt of many jokes.

I am not suggesting that you give up on your resolutions. Instead ask yourself “are my expectations for change reasonable?” As human beings, we tend to resist change, however beneficial it may be for us. Too big a change and we tend to rebel. Over the years I have found that very small changes, however insignificant they may seem at first, produce the best results over time. So look at your original resolution and break it down into really small, manageable and achievable goals.

When you break a larger goal down into smaller goals that you can easily achieve you will feel good about yourself and be more likely to continue working toward the larger goal.

One of the first things I teach all of my students to do on their own is the Alexander Technique Constructive Rest practice. It is a very simple way to rest your back, decompress your spine and generally release unnecessary tension in your body.

The goal is to ultimately make this a 20 minute practice every day.

For many students if they start off the first week with the goal that they are going to do their Constructive Rest practice for 20 minutes a day, every day, most very quickly give up on it.

The everyday aspect of this practice is the most important and what I suggest they work on first.

So, a better approach for many students is to break it down and start with a more reasonable and achievable goal of 5 minutes a day, every day. I suggest they do this for a few weeks. At that point they can try a goal of 10 minutes a day, every day for a few more weeks. After that they can try a goal of 15 minutes a day, every day for the next few weeks. Finally they can make their final goal 20 minutes a day, every day.

Proceeding in this manner means it may take you a few months to make the 20 minutes a day, every day, a habit. However, if you look at Constructive Rest as something that you can do to help take care of yourself for the rest of your life, a few months in the overall scheme of things is not a long time.

If you are new to the Constructive Rest practice I recommend this 15 minute podcast interview between two experienced Alexander Teachers.

21 Take a Lesson from Ozzie

My friends have a wonderful dog named Ozzie who loves agility training. Ozzie has been participating in agility competitions for the past few years. If you are not familiar with dog agility competitions they are the events where dogs are led through a variety of obstacles, such as tunnels, teeter totters, poles and jumps. The goal is for the handler to lead the dog through the course as quickly and accurately as possible.

Ozzie in action!

Ozzie in action!

At one all day competition about a year ago Ozzie had been entered in several events—and as it turned out, one too many events. Part of the course is a long tube that lies on the floor that the dog must run through. I believe it was Ozzie’s fifth event of the day. When Ozzie got to the tube he went in, and didn’t come out. He was tired. He was done. He had lain down in the middle of the tube and was not going to compete any more. Our friend actually had to crawl into the tube to coax Ozzie to come out!

As my friends related this story to a group of us we all chuckled. But it got me thinking…we can really learn a lot from our animals.

When animals are tired they listen to their bodies and they typically stop what they are doing and usually lie down and rest.

One of my students likes to say we are human BE-ings not human DO-ings. And part of being each day is resting. And I don’t mean getting your 8 hours at night. Although that is very important.

Do you find yourself barreling through your day getting one thing done after another and tuning out what your body is telling you? When your body says, “Hey you, I’m tired. I’d like a little break”, what do you do? Do you even hear the message? If you do hear it, do you push it aside and keep on going? Do you convince yourself that you don’t have time to take a break…even for 5 or 10 minutes?

It is actually when you are trying to convince yourself you can’t afford even a short break that you probably most likely need to take one.

Use the simple procedure called Constructive Rest I introduced you to in Post 11. It’s amazing what 10 minutes free of physical and mental responsibility can do for your productivity level.
Your postural muscles get a respite and might work a bit more efficiently for a while afterwards, allowing you to be upright with more ease and less strain. If you collapsing or slumping less your breathing will be freer.

Freer and more efficient breathing brings more oxygen to your brain cells and you just might be able to think more clearly!

Take a lesson from Ozzie and take a break when you most need it.

Picture Credit: Picture of Ozzie courtesy of Kathy Walker

12 Constructive Rest FAQ

Here are eight commonly asked questions and answers about Constructive Rest:

1) Why shouldn’t I do this on my bed or sofa?
A soft surface such as a bed or sofa that molds to your curves will not encourage the same release through your back as a firmer surface.

2) Can I listen to music while I do this?
This is a time to tune in to your body and your mind, not check out. Often we use things such as listening to music to completely check out. There is a time and place for this. Try just resting quietly.

3) I fall asleep when I do this. Is that a problem?
If you find you are consistently falling asleep you probably need more sleep generally. Take care of that need first by going to bed earlier.

4) Is it OK to lie down for longer than 20 minutes?
Yes. However, if you find you’d like to lie down for longer than 20 minutes, try doing two 20 minute sessions instead of one long 40 minute session. Do one in the morning and one in the late afternoon, for example.

5) Is it just as effective to do it once a week for a longer period of time?
No. It is sort of like brushing your teeth. Every day for a few minutes will be much more effective over time than a marathon stretch once a week.

6) When is the best time to do Constructive Rest?
Do it during the day. Don’t wait and have it be the last thing you check off your to do list before you go to bed at night. Also, don’t discount the usefulness of doing it in the morning when your body is fresh. Many of us wait until we are tired or our back hurts to rest.

7) I keep getting interrupted by the phone ringing. What should I do?
Make a decision that the time you spend in Constructive Rest is a time you free yourself from any demands, including answering the phone. Turn it off if you can’t ignore it.

8) Should I keep my eyes open or closed?
It depends. Most Alexander Teachers will teach you to keep your eyes open. You want to get used to the idea that you can remain conscious and rest at the same time. Most of us are so used to connecting being horizontal with zoning out and going to sleep that we ask you to keep your eyes open. With some of my students I will suggest that they close their eyes, not to sleep but so they can give their sense of sight a rest and better tune into the sense of their body’s contact with the floor. This is one very simple way to practice tuning into your body. Sometimes it is easier to do this with your eyes closed at first. And this skill, of tuning in to your contact with solid objects is a skill to cultivate.

11 Pause for Better Posture

JUST DO IT has been with us since Nike launched its well known ad campaign in 1988. This slogan epitomizes how our culture typically attempts to solve our various problems.

Postural problems? Just give me the strengthening/stretching/postural exercises and I’ll just do it! Fixed! Maybe you have already tried this approach and it just hasn’t worked.

That is because Doing itself is often part of the problem.

When it comes to improving your posture, what you usually need to do is not something new but evaluate what you are already doing and do less of what is unhelpful, inefficient or harmful.

A big part of postural problems is excess tension. It literally pulls you out of shape. This excess tension feels normal because you carry it around all of the time. But if you don’t know you are doing something how can you possibly choose to do less of it?

One simple practice I have used daily for the past 19 years is the Alexander Technique Constructive Rest practice. Over time it has helped me discover areas of excess tension I didn’t know I was holding and gradually let go of the unnecessary effort in my body, especially in my neck, shoulders and back. I’d like to share it with you.

Get down onto a firm but comfortable surface. A carpeted floor works. A yoga mat on the floor or an old blanket folded up to provide some padding works. Doing this on a sofa or bed will not provide you will the same benefits.

Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor about hip or shoulder width apart. You could also put your legs up on an ottoman or drape them over a stack of pillows. The main thing is keep your knees elevated above your hips. Support the back of the skull with some paperback books so that your head is not falling back.

Demonstration of the Constructive Rest position with legs bent and feet flat on the floor

Constructive Rest with legs balancing, knees pointed toward the ceiling and feet flat on the floor.

Demonstration of Constructive Rest position with legs supported by an ottoman.

Constructive Rest with legs supported by an ottoman.

Then do nothing for 15—20 minutes.

Nothing?

Yes. Nothing. No fidgeting to get your back or shoulders flat. No stretching to try to lengthen your spine. Just allow the floor to gradually support you. You don’t have to work to hold yourself up in this position. Enjoy having no demands.

This is a very supportive and neutral position for the body. It allows your spine to decompress because weight is not being transferred down the spine vertically as when you sit and stand.

When you are done, roll onto your side and come up to standing in a way that is easiest on your body. Try taking some of the ease you found while resting into the remainder of your day.

Make a commitment to do this daily for 10—20 minutes for the next month. See how it goes. In my next post I will answer some commonly asked questions about this practice. If you have any questions, post a comment with them and I will answer them as well.