Why Active Rest is different from Relaxation

Energising during a long hike

Energising during a long hike

A new pupil said to me recently, ‘I always have a few minutes of relaxation at the end of my yoga and Pilates classes, so I don’t need to worry about Active Rest on those days, do I?’

Well, I don’t want anyone to think of Active Rest as a chore, something that must be got through! However, it is very different from ‘relaxation’ and here’s why.

Typically, when you relax you’re switching off. You might imagine yourself lying stretched out on a tropical beach, with your eyes closed, feeling the warm sun on your skin. You can hear the waves lapping against the shore and the palm trees rustling in the gentle breeze. Your limbs grow heavier and heavier and you may even drift off to sleep.

This is very pleasant, but is it going to change you? Will you spend the rest of the day in a more relaxed state or will you go back to how you were before? Chances are that if your day goes well you will retain the chilled feeling but if you encounter difficulty it will be no more than a faint memory.

Less likely to fall asleep!

In Active Rest you keep your eyes open so you know exactly where you are, i.e. lying horizontal. Your feet are flat on the floor or table, again giving information about where you are and relating to how we sit and stand in everyday life. Obviously with eyes open and knees pointing up to the ceiling, you’re less likely to fall asleep!

Your head is resting on some books in order to maintain the neck’s natural curve, whilst giving the muscles space to free up.

Allowing not doing

When you ask the muscles in your neck, back, legs, and arms to release and lengthen, don’t be surprised if you can’t tell whether or not it is happening. This is less a ‘doing’ than an ‘allowing’. Don’t assume that just because an area doesn’t feel tense that it isn’t. If our muscles have been over-tight for a long time we don’t notice any more. Be sure not to tighten your jaw as you think all this through!

Changing yourself - for good

Because you’re lying down you can safely experiment with muscular release without running the risk of losing your balance. Your head, neck, and back get the chance to re-establish good coordination and the vertebral discs have time to rehydrate. You can pay attention to your whole self and notice how everything is connected, all the way down to the tip of your little toe.

This procedure gradually changes the way you operate and helps you stop contracting your muscles in response to every stimulus. Over time you’ll find you tighten up less in real-life situations and notice more quickly if your muscles are working too hard. You’ll also learn how to access Active Rest in various situations, even when time is limited.


If you’d like fuller instructions for Active Rest, please contact me.