Winter is the perfect time to ponder the question ‘what is my relationship to rest?’ The season encourages us, in its gentle manner, to withdraw and take pause. The quality of our waking life is a direct reflection of our ability to take quality rest. Our relationship to rest is reflected in the health of our body and mind and our ability to self-soothe.
Taking rest is a beautiful and kind gift we can give ourselves but is quickly frowned upon in our culture of driven busyness. When trying to take rest we often grapple with guilt and struggle to soothe our anxious mind. We fear being called lazy or that we are wasting time. Our lifestyle which supports an addiction to distractions (phones, TV, social media, computer, work etc) fosters a turning away from the present moment needed for true rest.
There is no doubt that a lack of rest is unhealthy and we live in a rest/sleep deprived culture. This can manifest in a myriad of ways; exhaustion, illness, lack of clarity, poor productivity at work, relationship and communication breakdown, adrenal fatigue, difficulty making decisions, addictive behaviors and on and on….so how do we make friends with one of the most powerful and natural remedies available to us?
Perhaps by sharing a little of my own journey with rest, I can illustrate the struggles and benefits more clearly. My relationship to rest has been an interesting and at times, intense experience. Twelve years ago I was receiving some medical treatment which ended up causing terrible side effects including serious damage to my pancreas. I suddenly found myself in a critical situation of life and death in a battle to survive, which lasted not weeks or months but years. Everything in my life instantly changed. I had to leave my job, my home, my friends and dearly loved dogs to take on the journey to live. With no medical cure available I was forced to find my own path of healing.
I found myself in a daily situation where my ability to stay alive was dependent on being absolutely clear about what does and does not serve my path to health. Rest became not only essential to making better choices but critical to survive. I quickly realised I had a choice to either sink or swim dependent on my moment to moment decisions. Without sufficient rest, mentally and emotionally I felt out of control of the situation at hand. As we have all no doubt experienced, when we get tired small things can seem impossibly difficult and the big things can take us over the edge. Twelve years on and I am happy to say that my path to wellness did occur with much determination and effort, time, soul searching, courage, yoga and lots of rest!
One of the many gifts from this intense experience is that it left me with a heightened respect for the power of rest. Taking time for rest every day was very hard to do in the beginning, even when my body needed it desperately. I soon worked out that I needed to create a pathway IN to rest and to change my ‘achieve and do’ mindset. Yoga, Qi-gong, nature, self-kindness, creative visualisation, pranayama and meditation formed the foundation of this journey as well as a strong will to live. It eventually led to my training as a yoga teacher so that I could impart the gifts of healing and wellness that are at the root of all true yoga practices.
So how do we start to re-learn the art of transitioning from busyness into a restful state given our full and often hectic lives? What are some tools that can help us get there?
Yoga for one is immensely powerful in initiating this process. It can be a wonderful pathway of release from the tensions of body, mind and emotions. Through a regular yoga practice, we begin to unpack the layers that have built up over time in our being. We begin to breath more deeply which in turn creates a soothing action upon the mind and body. Restorative yoga, in particular, is extremely potent in its power to carve out a pathway to rest. From the outside, restorative yoga seems passive with little going on. In fact, it is highly effective at releasing deeply held tensions in the body and softening agitations of the mind encouraging an open, restful state of being. Supported, gentle yoga poses are held for longer periods of time, often with guidance given to the breath and a mental focus. Sometimes this is done in quiet and at other times, with soothing gentle music. The student is encouraged to find their own deepest state of comfort in each pose. The central nervous system starts to unravel from a state of tightly coiled towards a state of ease. As the superficial layers of tension drop away, deeper layers start to surface and dissolve. Deep sighs are often a common sound in a restorative yoga class! A well rounded restorative practice can also include periods of meditation, pranayama, creative visualisations, yoga nidra, mudra and mantra.
This is powerful yoga medicine and it is available to everyone regardless of whatever physical and mental challenges might be present.
The benefits are way too numerous to be listed here, but as a taste restorative yoga can help with anxiety, insomnia, injuries, illness, fatigue, overload, depression, confusion, menstrual/menopausal discomfort, overwhelm, lack of clarity or just simply need some time out. Feelings arise of connection to the bigger picture, wellness and perhaps a sense of being able to hand over our problems to a greater power.
In this restful state, we become more acutely aware of what kind of thoughts we are habitually entertaining and we are given a powerful opportunity to re-seed the mind in this open state. Deepak Chopra perhaps says it best, “every cell in your body is eavesdropping into your thoughts.” Taking the time to listen to our thought patterns and make more positive-thought choices reveals a healthier physical and emotional state.
I remember reading a very simple quote once: ‘If you love someone, let them sleep’. We can take that a step further and say ‘If you love someone, let them rest’…or even better encourage your loved ones to rest just as much as you encourage them to move towards their goals. The two go hand in hand, they compliment and assist each other with natural necessity. The rewards to your life will be bountiful.
Easy Hatha: Tuesdays 10.30 – 12pm
Restorative Yoga: Wednesdays 11.15 – 12.30pm