Why having a better daily relationship with rest is essential for our wellbeing.
Updated: May 8, 2020
When you rest do you see it as an indulgence?
When you take a hot bubble bath, when you curl up to read a good book, when you get a sleep-in, when you make time for yoga practice - are these indulgences?
This week I have been feeling a little sluggish and more tired than usual by the end of the day. This was my body's message that I needed rest. In response, I used my free time this week to read a good book, take hot baths, and catch up on Netflix.
In truth, not only did I find it difficult to "switch off" and I also felt guilty that I was not being more 'productive' with my time. I couldn't help but feel like resting was an indulgence. Many of us have been conditioned to be constantly productive and feel guilty if we're not. Resting has become a luxury, which like most luxuries, are saved for specific occasions. Perhaps you only allow yourself to rest during your 25 days holiday a year, or, perhaps only when you are sick in bed. Why do we need to wait until we are on holiday, or physically sick to take proper rest to restore our body and mind?
It's crucial to remind ourselves that resting is an essential part of our day, everyday. It is not an indulgence; it's essential for our wellbeing.
Rewind to June 2019. I was working a full time corporate job and teaching yoga on the weekends.
I’m a positive glass half full kinda person, so although my corporate job was very stressful, I wouldn’t admit it at the time. But there’s no lying to your body!
I had years of stress stored in my body which often manifested into exhaustion. I remember sometimes feeling like a shadow of who I wanted to be.
And then one particularly stressful week in June, I was not feeling well and I was unwillingly introduced to a red blotchy rash from hell which covered my whole body. The rash got worse for 10 weeks before it got better.
It was only when the doctor asked me if I had a stressful job and actually prescribed me to “lesson your stressors” as medicine did I take notice and take action.
So before we continue with the importance of rest, let's talk about the impact of even low levels of stress.
Imagine a hungry lion starts to prowl towards you. In an instant you'd feel your heart pound, your breath quicken, your muscles tense, beads of sweat would form on your skin, your whole body would be at it's most alert to assist you in the fighting or fleeing from danger....
The nervous system has a direct role in the physical response to stress and is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
When the body is stressed, the SNS contributes to what is known as the "fight or flight" response.
A flash of hormones floods the body including adrenaline to boost the body's alertness. The heart rate quickens to send extra blood to the muscles, and the breath quickens to deliver more oxygen to the brain.
Once the crisis is over, the body starts to return to the pre-emergency, unstressed state. This recovery is facilitated by the PNS; within this state the body can start to to restore, reset, and rejuvenate.
But here's the catch - the 'hungry lion' is the external stress factors of our everyday life.
Whether that's a stressful job (like mine was), worry about finances, an argument with a loved one, or anxiety brought on by COVID-19. All of these 'hungry lions' can activate SNS "fight or flight" to some degree!
Like many of us, you may feel some levels of stress on a daily basis. If that's the case, low levels of "fight or flight" becomes your 'normal' base level, which puts a massive drain on your body.
OK, so that's the why. How do we reconnect with daily rest?
On the mat, 'restorative yoga' is a glorious way to deeply relax the body and promote a better relationship with resting In 'restorative yoga' each pose is held for 5min-10mins, sometimes more. Use props (cushions, bolsters, blankets) to support the body and help to take out all the effort of the pose.
Restorative yoga is wonderful to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, inviting the deep relaxation in the body required to reset, restore, and repair.
Here are my top 2 restorative poses you can try at home:
1. "Legs Up the Wall" (Viparita Karani)
I love "Legs up the wall" as I can deeply relax while feeling a lovely stretch into the legs. If you don't have a bolster, you can try this at home with a few cushions under your hips.
a) If you have tight hamstrings or are a little stiffer then move your hips further away from the wall. If you are more flexible you might get a little closer to the wall.
b) To get into the pose sit sideway on the edge of the bolster/cushions. From there, swing your legs up onto the wall, and at the same time lay your back/shoulders/ head lightly onto the floor.
c) Play around with the position of the arms but I quite like the arms shoulder height palms facing up
d) Lengthen the back of the next by lifting and releasing the skull away from the back of the neck.
e) Don't forget the breath! Inhale deeply through the nose and long exhales
f) Settle and surrender. With my eyes closed I imagine any thoughts in the mind spilling out the top of the head and into the earth
2. Supported Child's Pose (Salamba Balasana)
Supported Child's Pose is my absolute favourite. This is the pose where I often feel myself slipping into sleep. It helps calms an overactive mind, and is wonderful before for bed to promote a good night's sleep.
a) Come into a kneeling position on your mat with the bolster, or lots of big cushions positioned between your knees.
b) Slowly lay your torso down over the bolster and bring the tailbone towards the heels
c) Bring the arms either side of the body, you can even use more cushions under the arms. Let the arms be heavy.
d) Turn the head in one direction and then switch to the opposite direction half way through the pose hold
c) Breath deeply as you fully relax into the pose. As you rest here, use the exhale breath to help release any lingering tension in the hips and thighs.
e) Try placing cushions between the heels and hips for extra comfort!
It's not just on the mat - practice resting off the mat too!
Off the mat, start practicing resting a little each day, with full commitment to enjoy the benefits that resting offers. Here are my top three tips for resting off the mat:
1) Daily Self Care: give yourself at least one nourishing self care practice each day such as a hot bath, early night, a good book, a walk outside in nature, or even as simple as a proper lunch break away from your desk if you're working
2) Turn Off Your Device: at least one hour a day, if possible the hour before bed. We have so much stimulus all day, let your eyes rest too!
3) Give Yourself Permission to Rest: Most importantly, give yourself permission to rest by reminding yourself (like I had to this week!) that resting is daily essential, not a guilt inducing luxury. Enjoy it, you deserve it!
So, why do we need to have a better daily relationship with rest?
Experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, means the body is living in consistent low levels of "flight or flight" mode. The result of this is a long-term drain on the body, which contributes to a weaker immunity. We need a strong immunity to stay healthy, which is more important now than ever.
Looking back I’m sad that I waited until I was unwell to address something I’d felt inside for many years. But now I love teaching yoga to corporate clients, and connect with a lot of workers who share similar experiences to me. I also love teaching restorative yoga, to help my students deeply relax and release stress from body.
Even though I feel better now, I will continue taking my prescribed medicine, and I hope you will too: 𝗔 𝗱𝗼𝘀𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗮 𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝗵𝗲𝗹𝗽𝘀 𝗸𝗲𝗲𝗽 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗱𝗼𝗰𝘁𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝘄𝗮𝘆✨
Do you need to bring more rest into your daily life? If so, start resting today, & practice everyday.