One of my most oft-repeated instructions is to ask my private clients and yoga class students to begin their practice in ‘constructive rest‘. Taking my own advice to heart, I often release into that position at the start of the day, and again in the late afternoon before I head into the kitchen to make dinner.
Let’s take a look at constructive rest. Here are two variations, one with the feet flat on the floor, the other with the calves and feet up on a couch. After we look at this particular position, we’ll take a brief look at ‘mula bandha‘.
- Put some padding, such as an exercise mat or a blanket, on the floor.
- Lie down on your back, with your knees bent at a 45 degree angle, your feet flat and hips’ width apart (find your hip sockets by sliding your fingers over the fronts of the hip bones until you come to where the thigh bones are. This is width of your hips, not the exterior area of the buttocks).
- Slide a towel or firm blanket under the back of your skull (not rolled under the neck).
- Let your eyes stay softly open and angled down somewhat as you face the ceiling.
- Your arms may rest on the floor beside you, or you may cross them over the chest or rest your hands on the front of your pelvis.
- Try not to force anything; not your breath, not the position of your spine or even your thoughts.
From here, there are other movements you can do to continue releasing and working with the psoas, but those are best learned in the presence of an instructor, someone who can guide with their voice so that you stay connected to the process until you can do it on your own.
Bringing your body into the constructive rest position issues an invitation to the psoas muscle to release. It also lets our ever-alert nervous systems have a time out from the usual stimuli, which in turns allows us to move away from habitual responses into a realm of curiosity and calm self-observance. Taking the constructive rest position in the mornings, soon after waking, prepares us for the day’s activities. In the evening, or during a transitional period between work, and play, exercise or eating, it revitalizes our body and becomes a time of nourishing quiet.
Lying down supine, for a good 10 to 20 minutes when possible, invites us to become present. In doing so, we notice our breath, especially the exhale. We notice discomfort, and can choose to stay with it rather than dash up and out to ‘fix’ it. It invites us into sensation, into impressions, into awakening, and into a place where this all can overlap and intersect; all this from simply getting down and letting go.
Why would we want to make time daily to let go? For one thing, as we age the effects of shortened, mis-used, or improperly engaged psoas muscles become more apparent. Lordosis and kyphosis in the spine; twisting, thrusting, flexion and bilateral lifting in the pelvis; muscle strain in places that have had to take over the work of the psoas, and much, much more. In my one-on-one work, I have begun to see changes in my clients’ postural alignment and proprioceptive awareness within a couple weeks of consistent application.
The psoas muscle- which is a flexor muscle- is also a place in the body where the fear reflex is seen. The fear reflex creates immobilization; the psoas muscles contracts, bringing the extremities closer and creating the ‘fetal position’. (Please note: this is an extremely abbreviated version of a very rich topic). Our patterns of holding tensions show up in our physical bodies, our attitudes, and our emotions.
As we practice constructive rest, the psoas muscle begins to release and the pelvis begins to extend. We might start to feel things, or notice nervous energy or impulses coursing around in our lower body. Over time, the sense of chaos in these responses becomes more organized into sensation, into flow. Our pelvic floor, and more specifically the genital and anal area, begin to feel more spacious, deeper, wider. If we can stay in a place of quiet observation, we might begin to notice where we have become ‘conditioned’ and what is becoming ‘new’.
As you finish your time in this position, be sure to roll to your side and rest for a few breaths. Support the side of your head on a pillow or your arm, keeping the cervical spine parallel to the floor. Press your hands into the floor to come to a seated position before standing up and going about the next part of your day.
We can introduce a deeper element of yoga here, as these sensations of openness and readiness could be your doorway into connecting with certain aspects of the subtle body. As we bring our awareness to the process of releasing the psoas muscle and observing the shifting awareness within our pelvic region, we enter the realm of the bandhas, specifically mulabandha or the ‘root lock’. When we speak in terms of these energetic ‘locks’ in the body, we aren’t referring to something hard, rigid and metallic. Instead, the action of the bandhas is much like the action of the types of locks used to regulate the flow of water, be it for irrigation or transportation purposes.
If we picture the anal, vaginal and urethral sphincters, we move awareness to each of them in turn, drawing in and releasing, drawing in and releasing. ‘Ashwini mudra‘ is at the anus; at the urethra, we find ‘saholi mudra’ in females and ‘vajroli mudra’ in males. ‘Mula bandha‘ lies about 2″ above the male pelvic floor, in the area of the prostate, and in females it is located at the cervix. As you learn to isolate and engage the different mudras, begin to focus in more on mula bandha, gradually engaging it fully, then releasing it by half, and then half again. Mula bandha, one of the three primary bandhas, connects down through the legs to one of the secondary locks at the bottoms of the feet, or pada bandha.