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Resting has been on my mind recently. My Yoga practice is so helpful in showing me when and how to rest. I got ill a couple of times in close succession towards the end of winter and while I’m familiar with feeling tired beyond what feels healthy, I haven’t been ill so much alongside.
Rest is something that I have struggled with over the years. My nervous system was constantly hyped up and I felt terrified a lot of the time. Tasks felt overwhelming and complicated in the alarming jangle of feelings and thoughts. I found it hard to be relaxed, in activity or in supposed rest.
As I started to learn more about what was going on, I realised I had also developed a pattern of avoiding things that made me feel this way. The avoidance in turn contributed to feeling stressed.
I’ve had to learn to spot the difference between avoidance and rest. Now I may fool myself occasionally but the fruits of my efforts, the quality of my relationships and my growing peace of mind show how much I’ve improved.
What Have Yogis Said about Rest?
The teachings of Sri T Krishnamacharya – passed on to us through his son TKV Desikachar and many others, like A.G. Mohan , who trained and studied with him – are so incredibly helpful!
Here is a little of what Desikachar has to say about Yoga & rest, in his book The Heart of Yoga:
“Now a few words on something else that is important in the way we practice our yoga practice: rest between asanas. We must of course (of course we all say!! ;)) rest whenever we become out of breath or are no longer able to control our breath”.
How often do you take notice of what your breath is telling you during the day? Yoga can increase our awareness of when we need to rest and Yoga can help us learn how to rest appropriately.
Why is Rest so Important?
Resting gives us the opportunity to digest the effects of an activity. This is important for eating (do you take time to digest your meal before moving onto something else?) but for so many other things.
How do you feel after that interaction? Has it left you feeling angry? What is the anger trying to tell me? How are you going to release it before you unknowingly take it into your dealings with someone else?
How did you perform that task? Are you feeling stressed? Were you trying to force something instead of allowing a better solution to show up?
Sometimes a rest is all that we need before moving onto the next thing. However, because it also offers the chance to observe the effects of an activity and reflect on these, it also offers the potential to identify any alternative or remedial action.
In terms of a Yoga asana practice, any strenuous posture is likely to leave some strain in the body. Resting can show us where the strain is and direct us to release and sometimes counter-pose this with a different posture.
In terms of life off the mat, it gives us the chance to consider what just happened. What good can we take from it? What do we need to let go off or perhaps change in a future situation?
Rest for a Healthy System
Rest is an important part in so many of our mental and bodily processes. If we forget to take rest, we render a lot of our efforts less useful and sometimes harmful.
For example, if the autonomic nervous system is not allowed to spend time in its resting state, our digestive and immune systems cannot function properly. No matter what we eat, we are not able to take all the nutrients from it and we become susceptible to illness.
If we are training our bodies – largely the musculoskeletal system – to be fitter and stronger, it is the rest that follows activity which brings the growth, nutrients and benefits. Of course, rest on its own cannot do this but if we miss the rest, we can weaken or damage the system in ways we may not spot straight away and not attribute to over-doing it later on.
Often, because we don’t take time, as a matter of course, to be more aware and responsive to how we are feeling and functioning, we don’t notice what our bodies are trying to tell us until they are having to tell us something fairly serious! A lot of the illnesses, conditions and injuries we experience could be prevented, managed or minimised by looking after ourselves and resting more appropriately.
Do You Always Know You Need a Rest?
My life is busy as usual just now. And usual is a bit busier than I’d consciously like. No doubt a contributory factor as to why I caught the winter bugs. I just lay down with a blanket after eating lunch to listen to the wind outside and drink a cup of Earl Grey Rooibos Tea, which I love. It felt a little indulgent as I had quite a few things I wanted to get done this afternoon but the part of me that observes knew it was important.
It wasn’t until about five minutes of being still and quiet that I realized how tired I actually was! It was only by resting that I realized I needed to rest!
This reminded me of this blog post that I’d started writing a couple of weeks back. I lay there resting and reflecting. Definitely so much progress around how I look after myself and yet how much more mindful I can become.
Subtle Calls to Rest?
Desikachar, what did he say about being aware of the more subtle signs that we need to rest?
“Even if our breathing remains quiet and regular, certain parts of the body may become tired or perhaps sore and we must rest them as well. Also, if we have decided to practice an asana twelve times and we feel exhausted after the sixth time, then we must stop immediately and go into stillness. There is one rule to follow regarding rest: if we need a rest, we take one”.
So no matter what your goal, when your body says rest, you rest. This can seem impossible when your boss expects you to meet the next deadline or the kids need something. However, I have faith that if we practice creating our lives in ways that supports wellbeing, our goals, relationships and responses will start to support it more too.
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