Sleeping: undoing tension before, after, and in-between sleep


IMG_0008Many of my students ask me about sleeping and sleeping positions. It’s odd, isn’t it, that sleep—a time meant for rest and rejuvenation—can sometimes become an ordeal fraught with discomfort or even pain, both physical and mental. Even if we sleep soundly, many of us wake up stiff and sore.

This will be the first of a 3-part series on making changes in your nighttime patterns.

Before you go to sleep, lie on your back for 5 minutes with your knees up and your hands on your stomach. If you are already a student of the Alexander Technique, give yourself your Alexander Technique directions. Perhaps do a few “whispered ahs”. Ask for ease in your neck and in the back and front of your torso as you allow yourself to fully rest on your bed. Notice your breath flowing in and out gently. When you are ready, continue your awareness of ease in your neck as you decide whether to remain on your back or gradually move yourself to a different sleeping position. (More on sleeping positions in a future installment).

Consciously letting go of stiffening before sleep will eventually result in changing what you do during sleep. Once you are in your sleeping position, ask yourself to soften your face, eyes and tongue. Allow your neck and  hands to soften. Post-wakeup stiffness can result from clenching your jaw or hands in sleep. If you are stiffening in your hands the tension can go all the way up into your arms, shoulders and neck. If you are pulling your head back in relation to your neck, instead ask your head to move in the direction of a fetal curl. When you wake up during the night, again ask your neck to be free and your face, tongue and hands to soften.

If you have swirling or racing thoughts, try saying to yourself, “Allow my scalp to ease and expand, my brain to soften, lengthen and widen.” If you can feel some pressure or “bunching up” in a localized spot inside your head, ask this area to “spread out”. Do several “whispered ahs”. If you do not know the whispered ah, ask yourself to notice the gentle flow of your breath. If your swirling or racing thoughts persist, get up and do something, and then go back to bed, repeating the process outlined above.

Letting go of accumulated nighttime tensions is much easier if you consciously ask for ease after you wake up. Especially if you tend to feel stiff and sore upon waking, set your alarm 5 minutes earlier, and take a moment before you get up to let go of patterns accumulated while you were asleep. Spend some time lying on your back as you did before sleep, either in your bed, or, if you want a firmer surface, on the floor. When you decide to get up, do so with continued awareness and a wish for ease in your neck as you rise to begin your day.

I am curious to learn how these suggestions worked for you! I hope you will consider commenting to let me know what you think, and if you are curious to learn more about the Alexander Technique, you can find a teacher in your area at

blog by Heidi Leathwood

photo by Heidi Leathwood