Alexander Technique and the Semisupine Position

I have been interested in Alexander Technique for a few years now and have read a great deal about it, although sadly I have not quite been able to afford the experience of 1-1 teaching that is so essential to really progressing with it.

Frederick Alexander is one of the heroes of what I have called “the experimental approach to life“. His thorough exploration of his own body’s habits lead him to discover that the feedback our senses give us about how we are moving (or not moving) is not always accurate. From this he went on to develop the educational method known as Alexander Technique that is unlike any other physical therapy and which has applications to every area of life. It is so powerful I think it should be on every school curriculum because of its effectiveness in preventing chronic spinal injury alone.

I’d like to blog more about the things I have learned in this area but, for now, here is one of the simplest and most effective practices to ‘take home’ from it. Fifteen to Twenty minutes of “semisupine” a day will make a huge difference.

Put Your Knees Up!

The way that you lie down and get up again – yes the actual act of lying down and getting up again as well as the position you lie in when you are down can really make a difference. Active Rest is a practice of Alexander Technique that realigns and relaxes the spine, improving posture and awareness of the space the body occupies. Doing it for as little as 15 minutes a day makes a noticeable difference but you will enjoy it so much you will undoubtedly find more time for this simple practice.

During active rest also known as the !”semi-supine” position you lie on your back and bend your legs so that your knees are above your hips, this has the effect of rotating the pelvis and stretching the spine, counteracting the accumulated compacting effect of gravity on your body.

Traditionally, in Alexander Technique, the head is rested on a book or two to achieve a comfortable alignment in the semi-supine position. You will need to initially experiment with getting this right for you. Too many books and your neck will be forced upwards, too few and your head will tilt back – you are aiming for your natural line of sight to be perpendicular to the floor and ceiling.

To experience the benefits of active rest you can’t just fling yourself into position but need to think carefully about getting down and up again in the right way.

1. First place your books on the floor at your feet and stand facing them. Take two paces back and one to the side.

2. Go down onto one knee as if you were about to propose. Lean forward onto your arms, keeping your back straight and bringing the other knee down to put yourself in the crawling position like a baby.

3. Gently roll over by putting your backside on the floor in front of the books and allowing the rest of your body to follow so that you end up on your back with your knees up and hopefully your head resting on the books.

4. Place your feet on the floor, keeping your legs bent.

You are now in the semi-supine position so relax and enjoy it. You can put your arms out to the side with palms flat or rest your hands on your midriff with your elbows touching the floor. It may be an unusual sensation but it should be comfortable. You will notice your back elongating and may need to move your hips away from you in order to keep your head on the books. Don’t fiddle with the books or move your head if possible, rather adjust your hips if you need to.

During active rest you can do what you like but it is really helpful to imagine yourself melting down into the floor, feeling heavy, and letting all your weight go down through the points at which your body is touching the ground. You can focus on your breathing, feeling your diaphragm rise and fall and slow down. Just take the time to become aware of yourself and the space you occupy, the sounds you can hear and the sensations you can feel.

Try it for fifteen minutes. When you are ready to get back up, it is important not to rush things. You will be reversing each step you used to get down. If you hurry this you can easily undo all the good you have done so roll over onto one side and then onto your front on all fours. Bring one knee up and straighten your body before standing up in a gentle fluid movement.

Active rest takes practice but once you incorporate it into your routine you will begin to look forward to it and enjoy the improved sense of balance and posture through the day. Use it to restore yourself in the middle of the day.

Alexander Technique has variously been described as an educational method and even a state of mind. It works primarily in very subtle ways by allowing your body to rediscover the suppleness and grace you had as a child before you were told to “sit up straight” and “keep still” or picked up the bad postural habits we all carry through life and think are normal. If you are interested in learning more then it is recommended that you find an Alexander teacher near you or explore the numerous resources available on the Internet.

9 thoughts on “Alexander Technique and the Semisupine Position

  1. I went to an AT practitioner a couple of years ago after I’d had sciatica. The semi surpine is the first thing I do every morning. Though, not for 15. more like 5 minutes. It works though. I agree with the ‘give it to schools’ idea. Can I be so bold to extend that to. ‘Teach it to everyone for free on the NHS’? It would save the NHS £ millions in the long run. IF only this country would foster, encourage and support self care……

    1. Yuh- that’s the thing about AT, just sitting down in a chair becomes the focus of hours of work, but don’t let that put you off. It’s really about letting your body rediscover the instinctive ease you had with movement and posture as a child – before adults shouted at you to, “sit up straight and stop slouching”.

    1. That’s a very good question (I had to try and draw the diagram I used in this post – which is why it is so badly done). I’m probably not the expert to answer, either.

      However, I think it is because of the importance of not seeing Alexander Technique as the kind of thing that can be learned from diagrams. It is designed to be conveyed in hands-on education with a trained teacher. The point is that we think we know how our body is positioned in space, based on our interpretation of our body’s feedback, but we are often wrong and need someone to show us how “right” feels. Alexander technique is about how we think and perceive so we’ll never be able to learn it from diagrams alone. In fact, following diagrams may do more harm than good if other aspects of AT are not practiced alongside them.

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