Educative and restorative, semi-supine practice is a traditional part of Alexander Technique training. It is an opportunity let go of accumulated tension and refresh positive co-ordination. The feedback from the firm surface helps the body re-calibrate tone increase sensitivity. The practice reinforces the experience of lessons and means that there is time devoted to the cultivation of Alexandrian thinking without demands of other activity. The coordination engaged with when horizontal becomes a template for easeful coordination in activity.
Ten minutes a day is a good starting point. If start to drift off and are not giving clear directions, the Alexander Technique benefit is compromised (though it may still be a nice rest!). Research shows the spine takes twenty minutes to rehydrate, so this long may have added benefit.
When To Practice
Breaking up long hours at a computer or instrument with semi-supine is very useful. Some students like to do it to relieve work tension when they return home, some find first thing in the morning it sets them up for a good day. Many students report that they sleep better from practicing semi-supine just before bed. It’s individual and will depend on how you are any given day. You will however, benefit from committing to practice every day, even if only for a couple of minutes. You can use a timer if you are time pressured.
The surface you lie on needs to be flat and firm enough that you can feel it clearly, but not so firm that it is uncomfortable. A carpeted floor is good, beds are too soft and floorboards too hard. It is important to have a quiet, warm space. Trying to read, listen to the radio or watch TV will undermine the practice.
Lie on your back with knees up, feet flat on the floor a comfortable width apart and distance from your tail. Place a few paperback books under your head. The books make up for the forward position of the head relative to the body. (You can try measuring this standing against a wall). If you feel the chin compressing the throat, books are too high. If your head feels tilted back, or compressed at the back of the neck, it is too low. If in doubt, err on the high side.
Your setup is individual. If it makes it more comfortable, you can try resting your lower legs on something that raises them parallel to the floor. A towel rolled up and inserted under the neck can relieve pain there, and a towel or small pillow under elbows can help ease shoulder discomfort. Make other adjustments as necessary, but keep in mind the original form has evolved because of its effectiveness.
Whilst the position is restful, the real work of semi-supine is engaging in the thinking processes of Alexander Technique. Start with observation. As you observe, resist any impulsive physical reaction or judgement of what you notice - here is a chance to practice inhibition. However, you don’t want to hold on to any posture or disallow the body’s natural response to observation.
Some things to start noticing:
• Where your head is in relation to your spine
• Arms and legs in relation to torso
• Where there is contact with the floor, where there is not
• Quality of contact - hard or soft
• What moves when you breathe, what doesn’t
• The depth, rate and ease of breathing
• What is available for movement throughout the body, what is not
• How heavy or light you feel
• What is in your vision, what you can hear
• The sensation of clothing against your body
• The thoughts that are in your mind (just notice and move on)
• Anything else - we want to be as inclusive as possible.
Move from observing to forming intentions and directions. Be sure to use passive language and not to insist on any change, but allow the body to respond of it’s own accord.
Some possible starting points:
• Allow the neck to be free
• Direct the head away from the tail
• Let the whole spine release into length
• Yield to gravity, let the head and body sink into the surface below
• Accept the support the floor gives you - let it buoy you up from below
• Allow the movement of breath to mobilise the ribs, abdomen and flow through the torso
• Free the lips, jaw, tongue, throat, eyes, brow
• Invite width through the shoulders
• Intend for expansion in three dimensions - widening, lengthening and deepening
• Allow the knees to float towards the ceiling
• Let the palms soften and the elbows hang
• Permit movement of the shoulder blades around the back of the ribs
• Open yourself to the possibility of movement of your head into rotation, flexion or lateral movement. We don’t need the movement itself, we just ask for the availability or potential of that movement.
• Add more directions using your own observations and imagination.
You don’t need to remember this list. You don’t need to include any of the above. It’s just a starting point. Conduct your own experiments to find what thinking is most constructive for you. Feed back to your teacher so that together you can refine the practice.
If you feel nothing through the practice, that is not a concern. If it is giving you some pain, seriously consider the manner in which you are approaching the practice and revise it accordingly, or discontinue and discuss it with your teacher.
Without exception, all students who have committed to semi-supine practice report it supports their training and they enjoy ease that comes from it.
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