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Taking Time to Rest: Alexander Technique’s Constructive Rest as a Way to Release Tensions for the Artist at Work

Rest and Repeat Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs.
Rest and Repeat Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs.

I made a quarter note rest, which in musical notation is a sign to be silent for one beat.  Stratoz designed and cut out the pieces of the rest sign, and then I flowed around it with green glass, and as I worked, I had the idea to make repeat signs in the corners, rest, repeat, rest, repeat.  I was smitten with it, and tempted to keep it in my studio as a reminder to take breaks.

Alexander Teacher Imogen Ragone wrote about The “Restorative Niche” and Constructive Rest.  Imogen had read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and was taken with Cain’s idea of a Restorative Niche, a place you got to return to your true self, and how it resembled the the idea of Constructive Rest in the Alexander Technique, also known as Active Rest or Semi-Supine: lying down in a position that allows you to let the tension in your body release.

I am an introvert, and being alone is a way to restore my energy.  I enjoy being with people, whether over for pizza or conversations over coffee, but if I don’t give myself time to recharge, I am quickly exhausted.

I came across some images of sculpture by Sean Henry which makes Constructive Rest larger than life.  “Catafalque” at Salisbury Cathedral is bronze with oil paint and brings a meditative sense of the wider world while yet being grounded in the self.  Henry has created sculptures of people seated, lying down, sitting, and they have a kind of quiet, considered, contemplative quality.

I remember reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s assertion that it’s helpful to spend some time on the floor each day.  It is a reorientation of the body that can also reorient the mind.  I often found it difficult to find a comfortable position on the floor because it was hard on my back, but Constructive Rest allows my body a way to be at ease.

Catafalque (2003) Sean Henry bronze sculpture at Salisbury Cathedral 208 x 394 x 194 cm
Catafalque (2003) Sean Henry bronze sculpture at Salisbury Cathedral 208 x 394 x 194 cm


I found drawings by Julia Kay on Flickr.  The one below is called “Active Rest” and I love the dark blue watercolor that feathers into lighter shades down to the feet, a visualization of releasing all the held places, as we let the floor hold us.

Active Rest: 2008.04.18

One of the most difficult things for me is taking breaks.  When I am working on mosaics in the studio, I have years of habits that are so a part of me that I don’t even notice them, both physical and mental.  I often feel a need to finish something once I’ve started it, even if my body hurts or has tensed up.  I also have a belief, that is slowly being altered, that once I have tension in my body there’s no way to let go of it and I need to forge ahead.  Through my Alexander Lessons I am learning that I can let go of tensions,  if I offer my body the opportunity.

Lying Down for Back Pain Relief, Imogen Ragone.
Lying Down for Back Pain Relief, Imogen Ragone.


I’ve been adding Constructive Rest to my day, after a stretch in the studio or at the computer, and especially after grouting.  I lay down on the bedroom floor and rest my legs up on the bed.  This lets my lower back release completely.  I put a book under my head that helps release my neck, neither scrunched upward or downward.  Imogen has a photo on her blog of this version, which is a possibility if your back is troubling you.  She has a guiding audio at Stress Reliever: The Alexander Technique Practice of Lying Down, which you can listen to.

More images on my Pinterest Board Alexander Technique and Ease in the Art Studio.





  1. Ruth says:

    Oh thank you. I must try this. I have built up tension again (after Alexander, and other things), and I am not successfully releasing it.

    May your spirit expand and soar in the new year, Margaret. Love to you and Wayne.

  2. Hi Margaret, I thought I had commented on this blog when it came out, but maybe I just imagined it. I really love this post, and also thank you for sharing my posts! I’m so pleased you found a way to rest your back that is comfortable AND helpful! The images you found of pieces of art that show someone in the Constructive Rest position are wonderful! I’ll be sharing this blog on my Facebook page tomorrow as part of my 30-Day Constructive Rest Challenge which I have going on this month!

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