The “Give the Psoas a Break” Exercise. A Constructive Rest Position for Everyone!
CRP is a supine position that has been taught for many years. The system was developed by Mabel Todd in the early part of the twentieth century in Boston and then in New York City as an alternative to strict military physical education. She called this method Natural Posture. Her ideology was later termed Ideokinesis, an idea of movement used to improve muscular coordination through imagery. Creative yet scientific, it is based on functional anatomy with ease and repatterning of movement, and was embraced by major universities such as Columbia, NYU, and Juilliard.
Lulu Sweigard, a student-turned-colleague of Todd’s, named this certain exercise constructive rest position (CRP) in New York in the late 1920s. Other students, such as Barbara Clark, Sally Swift, and later Irene Dowd, became renowned teachers in the field of Ideokinesis, and people around the world have studied and embraced it as a way of rebalancing misguided physical efforts in a more natural way. This is also a concept that Joseph Pilates became aware of after the war, when he moved to New York and began work with singers and dancers; the Alexander Technique also teaches it.
Benefits of CRP
Today this position is widely practiced; it is hard to find a professional dancer or body worker who has not been exposed to its benefits. This position is commonly used for a number of reasons ranging from abdominal and uteral cramping, to relaxing many muscles, specifically the psoas. It is a great way to release muscle contraction, as it allows the skeleton (and gravity) to do the work of neutral alignment in a restful state.
The Constructive Rest Position. In CRP, the body will give in to gravity – let go, and become balanced and receptive to its natural alignment and posture.
Begin lying on the back (supine) on a firm, flat surface. Bend the knees with the feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. The head can be supported so that it is in line with the spine. Some prefer to keep the hips, knees, and feet in line with each other; if this is hard to do and causes muscle tension, then let the knees rest against each other with the feet slightly wider and toes turned in.
Note: The femur will rest gently into the hip socket, releasing the “grip” of the hip flexors. The spine will follow its natural curves. Both arrangements free the psoas.
Arms can be crossed at the elbows and lie across the chest; if this is uncomfortable, they can relax on the floor. (Remember, this is a rest position!)
Close the eyes and envision the full length of the spine.
Imagine a line of energy traveling down the spine, then curving up between
the legs, moving up the front of the body and back down the spine again.
A cyclical energy line is engaged; inhale as it flows down the spine, exhale as it comes up the front, not unlike a “zipper being pulled up to close a jacket”
around the torso.
Feel the weight of the head melt into the surface – not back, but in line with the neutral spine.
Relax and let the aligned vertebrae and pelvic bones support the body without using the muscles.
Feel as if the knees are draped over a hanger, the thighs hanging on one side,the lower legs on the other, with the hanger supported from above.
Bring mental attention to the thighs and imagine a small waterfall owing down from the knees into the hip sockets, releasing the thigh muscles.
Imagine another waterfall trickling from the knees, down the shins, to the ankles. Take your time.
Feel the feet, as well as the eyes, relaxing in cool pools of water.
Repeat this full set of imagery over and over, slowly, for at least 10 minutes. When done, do not sit up, but simply roll over to one side and come to a
sitting position slowly, so as not to disrupt any alignment achieved.
The psoas is in a relaxed state at the lumbar spine. While doing this position, it might be helpful to have someone read the imagery list slowly to help guide you. It is released at the hip; even though there is hip flexion, it is not active against resistance, so the psoas is at rest. This exercise can be done daily, anytime during the day, and by anyone, and allows the psoas to “take a break.” When first practicing the technique, one may experience physical discomfort, even emotional feelings.
An Alternative Approach
There is another position that is very effective for releasing the psoas, as described by the Egoscue method, a system of exercises designed by Pete Egoscue to alleviate chronic joint pain. Similar in principle to the CRP, one lies on the floor with one or both lower legs resting on a block or support.
The support should be as high as the length of the femur. The support holds the weight of the lower leg and allows the thigh to fall directly into the hip socket, thereby releasing the psoas and other hip and spine muscles. This position is held for as long as possible to achieve the desired relaxation. If no support is available, the feet can rest against a wall, hip width apart, with the knees bent and the hips directly underneath them. Abdominal crunches can be added without engaging the psoas too much.
The above is based on information contained in "The Vital Psoas" by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones. Jo Ann is a professor of kinesiology and a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a master’s degree in dance and education. She received degrees from the University of Kansas and New York University before pursuing a career as a performer, choreographer, teacher, and movement scientist. She currently teaches interactive movement workshops across the United States and sponsors international yoga and holistic retreats.
This trigger point therapy blog is intended to be used for information purposes only and is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or to substitute for a medical diagnosis and/or treatment rendered or prescribed by a physician or competent healthcare professional. This information is designed as educational material, but should not be taken as a recommendation for treatment of any particular person or patient. Always consult your physician if you think you need treatment or if you feel unwell.
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