I have been an insomniac my whole life. My body has resisted sleep like a petulant child, even when I was a petulant child. I read all the recommended articles and tried all the techniques, yet sleep and I remained contentious frenemies (a word I learned thanks to an insomnia fueled all night Sex and the City marathon). Not having consistent and restorative sleep led to a number of other ailments as well. I went through battles with migraines, teeth grinding and TMJ, just to name a few. I was sleepy all the time and never truly felt rested.
But then I discovered my wonder drug – which is not a drug at all: The Alexander Technique. The Alexander Technique is commonly taught in acting programs (which is where I learned it), but I truly believe that it would be more popular than massage and visits to the chiropractor if more people knew about it. Very long story short, F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor who began to experience chronic laryngitis whenever he performed. When his doctors could not help him, Alexander discovered a solution on his own. He had not been aware that excess tension in his neck and body were causing his problems, and he began to find new ways to speak and move with greater ease. His health improved so much that friends and doctors asked him to teach them his methods. Alexander taught for more than 35 years and continued to refine his exercises, which has now become known as the Alexander Technique.
Well, that was a nice little history lesson, but what is it and how does it work? The Alexander Technique is a method that works to change movement habits in our everyday activities to improve ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination. The technique teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. It helps you to release unnecessary tension and can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities.
Again, you’re probably thinking “nice description, but what can I do with this today?” Great! Here are 2 simple ways to bring some “Alexander” into your life today. The next time you are walking up stairs, simple tuck your chin down closer to your chest and lead your body up the stairs with the crown of your head versus your eyes and chin. You will feel like you are flying up those stairs! Seriously! Our heads weigh a lot (thank you kid from Jerry Maguire), so use that weight to your advantage by directing it towards your destination, not away from it. Just tuck your chin and allow the momentum of the weight of your head to start to propel you up those stairs. You’ve just Alexander’ed! You’ve made better use of your body and used less energy by working with your body versus against it.
Next up, constructive rest. Never has improving your life been made so easy. It involves lying down for 15 minutes a day. What could be easier?!? Here’s how:
- Find a reasonably quiet place. Lie on your back on a flat, firm surface, like a carpeted floor, or a wooden floor with a yoga mat or thin blanket beneath you. Do not lie down on a bed, cot, or sofa, these surfaces are too soft and will not allow for your muscles to release.
- Place something firm beneath your head, such as a few thin books or magazines, for support. The height of this support will vary with each individual. The idea here is to lengthen the spine, so you want to find a height that allows your neck to stay in line with the rest of your spine, not bent too far back or forward. Try different heights to find the one that feels best to you and allows you to let your shoulders relax.
- Now, bend your knees to bring your feet flat onto the floor. Keep your heels in approximate line with your hips. It may take some playing around to find the right placement, but you’ll know you’ve found the “sweet spot” when keeping your knees up feels somewhat effortless.
- Next, bend your elbows to bring the palms of your hands to rest on the sides of your torso towards the bottom of your ribcage. Make sure your hands are not touching one another, and that there is plenty of space between your ribcage and elbows.
- Finally, close your eyes, breathe and allow the weight of your body to fall into the floor. Fifteen minutes later, you’ll feel practically brand new! (Here’s a great tutorial with a more in depth explanation: http://www.expandingself.com/constructive_rest. And here’s a video to help you out too: http://vimeo.com/170140.)
In a perfect world, we would all do this every day or our lives, but I aim for at least 3 to 4 times a week and still feel miraculous benefits. I haven’t needed migraine medication since I started constructively resting regularly and my bed and I have become best friends forever! Enjoy!
Post authored by Erin Jerozal