After a tough workout (or just a tough day), you not only deserve a break, your body needs it, too. Lying on a mat and focusing on your breath may look and feel like you're just taking a nap, but in fact you're actually in a pose that can make you feel better all over.
What is this magical pose that lets you lie around doing nothing for 5 to 10 minutes? It's called constructive rest, and it may just become your favorite part of every workout.
How Constructive Rest Works
Yogic philosophy teaches us that tension comes in three main layers: physical, emotional and mental. The aim of a regular restorative yoga practice is to dial down the body's stress response and zero in on those muscle groups that cause physical tension by uniting those three layers through breath, attention and focus.
Practicing constructive rest can help you feel relaxed, but relaxation is just one side effect. Restorative yoga poses like this one can't be done by simply lying down and telling yourself to relax. (If you've ever been stressed and had someone tell you to "just relax", you'll know how silly that advice is!)
When you practice constructive rest, you're in a comfortable position and focusing on connecting your thoughts to your body and breath. In placing all your attention on being present, your body is free to let go and reset.
A small June 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that included constructive rest as part of a weekly practice among teachers found a significant decrease in stress and an increase in focus and feelings of wellbeing within just six weeks.
And the results didn't just go muscle-deep — participants' stress was reduced on a cellular level, as well. After the first few weeks, biological stress markers showed a decrease in stress levels, and after four weeks of weekly training, their stress levels decreased even more right after each session.
Benefits of Constructive Rest
Constructive rest — lying in a supine position with knees bent — is said to have all sorts of physical benefits, including alleviating muscle tensions and targeting the root pain of many aches and pains in the lower body.
Eases Lower Back Pain
Not only can the pose ease lower back pain by alleviating compression in the spine, it can also help to lengthen and stretch the psoas muscle, the long muscle connecting the spine and the legs.
"The psoas often tightens during times of stress, so taking time to lengthen it may bring a sense of ease," Lisa Bermudez, a wellness coach, yoga and meditation teacher at Yoga Renew in Hoboken, New Jersey, explains.
You can also set aside time for constructive rest if you're looking to reduce anxiety and, practiced before bed, it can help promote a better night's sleep. "This is a great pose to help calm the autonomic nervous system," Marcy Crouch, DPT, a pelvic floor therapist and founder of the platform TheDownThereDoc, explains.
Releases the Pelvic Floor
"I recommend poses like this to my clients who have chronic or persistent pelvic pain as it helps to calm the nervous system, release and lengthen the pelvic floor muscles and help regulate breathing," Crouch says.
Throughout the day, in almost everything we do, the core muscles, the diaphragm and the breath all work together, Crouch explains. When we are able to lie in a supportive position and focus on the breath, the muscles can lengthen, open and release, which in turn helps decrease pain and improve mobility.
How to Do Constructive Rest Pose
"In yoga, it's somewhat of a variation of savasana, the final resting pose that you do at the very end of a yoga class," Bermudez explains. "It involves lying down on your back, stepping your feet to the floor, and bringing your bent knees to touch."
- From a sitting position, lie on your back and step your feet to the floor. Separate your feet wider than your hips and relax your knees in toward each other.
- Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. As you do, feel yourself sink down into the mat or floor as it supports you. Let your lower back find a comfortable, neutral position without forcing it down to the floor or into an arch.
- Place a blanket beneath your head, feet, or even hips — wherever you need support and cushioning to be able to stay in the position for 1 to 5 minutes. You can drape a blanket or sweatshirt across your midsection for added comfort and grounding.
- When you’re settled, allow your arms to relax alongside your body, palms facing up, or rest them gently on your belly. Close your eyes gently, take a deep breath in and exhale fully, letting go of any remaining tension.
- Bring your awareness to your breath. Feel the natural rhythm of your breath, flowing in and out effortlessly. With each inhale, invite a sense of relaxation and ease. With each exhale, release any thoughts or worries, allowing your mind to become still.
- Scan your body from head to toe, noticing any areas of tension or discomfort. As you exhale, imagine that tension melting away, leaving your body feeling light, relaxed, and at peace.
- Give yourself permission to completely surrender. Let go of any effort or control. Allow your body to become heavy, sinking into the support of the mat beneath you. Feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly with each breath, grounding you in the moment.
- Stay in the pose for as long as you need. You may want to set a timer.
- When you're ready to slowly transition back, begin to deepen your breath. Straighten and stretch your legs long. Wiggle your fingers and toes, gently move your wrists and ankles. Stretch your arms overhead, taking a full-body stretch, and then roll onto your right side, taking a moment to rest there.
- When you're ready, use your right hand to press yourself up to a seated position. Give yourself a moment to settle before coming up to standing.
Acknowledge any thoughts that arise, but let them pass by like clouds in the sky, without attaching to them. If you feel distracted or tense, bring your attention back to your breath.
When to Practice Constructive Rest
"If you're taking a yoga class, the best time to practice constructive rest is after backbending or any time toward the end of class. It can be an alternative to taking savasana with the legs long," Bermudez advises.
Give constructive rest a try for 5 to 10 minutes in the morning, before bed, after a long drive or any time you're experiencing low back pain, high stress, hip pain or even digestive troubles.
But don't wait until you're all wound up to find time to wind down. Making the constructive rest pose part of your daily practice is akin to flossing or tidying your house before bed. If you do it once in a while, it's helpful — but you're not going to get the most benefit. If you do it every day, the practice becomes a habit, and the benefits will build up exponentially over time.
- Marcy Crouch, DPT, Pelvic Floor Therapist
- Lisa Bermudez, Wellness Coach, Yoga and Meditation Teacher with Yoga Renew in Hoboken, New Jersey
- "A Complementary Intervention to Promote Wellbeing and Stress Management for Early Career Teachers": International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
- Video courtesy of Patrick Franco, Yoga Renew Teacher Training