The Semi-Supine Position
The semi-supine position, also known as “constructive rest position,” is perhaps the single most useful position for restoring the natural working of the body. Developmentally speaking, the semi-supine position is fundamental because it is from this position that we learn all our other movements. It is also very supported. When we lie down with our knees up, there are, apart from the feet, elbows, and hands, five weight-bearing areas: the spines of the scapulae, the posterior superior iliac spines, and the occiput. If we are on a fairly hard surface, the contact of these points on the ground will help to stimulate supporting reflexes and allow all the weight-bearing areas to sustain the body weight in an equilibrated fashion. The fixation of these points by gravity enables us to let go of the sacrospinalis sheet and neck muscles, to untwist in the trunk and ribs, to let go in the hips and thighs, and to release the throat muscles.
Although we are designed to be upright, the curves of our upright posture, as we've seen, are susceptible to shortening -- particularly the lower back and the neck, which become chronically shortened. Because the semi-supine position provides so much support for the body, it is ideal for letting go of these tensions, for restoring lengthened muscles throughout the body, and for reestablishing the natural working of the postural neuromuscular reflex (PNR) system.
Some relaxation methods advocate lying flat on the floor with legs extended and no support for the head. Lying in this way, however, is problematic for two reasons. First, when the legs are fully extended, they tend to pull on the pelvis, which exaggerates the lumbar curve; at the same time, the head is thrown back, which causes the neck muscles to shorten. Second, this position tends to encourage a kind of collapse of the entire system, when in fact the body needs a kind of lively support. This is why it is important to put the knees up and to place a pile of books under your head. Putting the knees up reduces the lumbar curve of the spine, and supporting the head with books helps the necks muscles to lengthen and prevents the pulling back of the head. Both these thing encourage lengthening and release of the muscles of the back, legs, and neck.
When performing the procedures, use a firm but padded surface because this type of surface will provide good support for your head, your upper back, and your pelvis. Do not lie on a bed or very plush carpet because the pelvis and lower back will collapse, which will defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Place a small pile of books under your head. The books should be high enough to prevent the neck muscles from being shortened and the head from being pulled back, but not so high that the throat is pinched, the neck is stretched, or the head is held up too high. Bend your legs at the knees, with your feet fairly close to your buttocks and shoulder width apart.
In the next post, we will discuss how to think in order to reinstate the functioning of the PNR system in this position.