If you’re feeling stressed all the time, or like there’s never enough time in the day, the answer might just be more rest. In this post, I talk about the importance of rest and share some simple tips on how to rest well.
There’s almost nothing more important than getting enough rest. Not only does it help you recharge your energy levels, but it’s essential for all aspects of physical, mental and emotional health. Research has shown that resting benefits your immune system, stress management, mood, decision-making, creativity, and work productivity.
However, resting is one of life’s things that is easier said than done. We live in a society that encourages productivity, and being busy is often seen as a badge of honour and a marker of self-worth. Many people encounter constant pressure to dedicate more time to productivity, even if it means over-scheduling themselves and sacrificing sleep. In the Western world, slowing down or pausing has a negative connotation to it, but in reality, rest is vital for our well-being.
In many ways, yoga and rest practices complement each other so here are some ways to explore adding a more restful flavour to your week.
Start with the breath
From a physiological standpoint, the breath is one way that we can influence our nervous system to facilitate rest.
The branch of the nervous system associated with rest is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) – the ‘rest and digest’ state. The primary nerve of the PSNS is the Vagus nerve which connects the brain to the heart, lungs, and gut. Influencing the breath has been linked to vagal nerve stimulation and therefore our rest response.
Working with the breath should be approached gently and slowly. It’s important to find a way of breathing that feels comfortable for you. However, any breath pattern that slows and deepens the breath, particularly lengthening the exhale, can help to engage the PSNS.
Finding time to practice breathwork (pranayama) in a busy home can feel hard to come by but the practice doesn’t need to be formal. Some of the most powerful moments of rest come in smaller pockets of time when we transition from one thing to the next.
Embodied approach to movement
Yin and restorative styles of yoga can be great at tailoring our practice to rest. However forcing the body to be still if your mind is busy can be triggering, particularly if you’re feeling anxious, restless, or a trauma survivor.
Adopting an embodied and somatic approach to our movement practice (asana) will naturally slow us down, create more space for being with the breath, and allow us to soften our edges through intuitive movement.
Supporting postures using bolsters and pillows might feel more welcome, although just letting the body move softly and consciously can be nurturing enough.
Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep as it is commonly known, is a powerful practice, and one of the easiest to develop and maintain. It’s a practice that everyone – from children to seniors can do, and can be done seated or lying down. Yoga Nidra is a guided practice and you can choose the length depending on how much time you have – it can be as short as five minutes or as long as an hour. This systematic practice takes you through the Pancha Maya Kosha (five layers of Self), leaving you with a sense of wholeness and feeling deeply rested.
Find time for meditation
Meditation has been used by a variety of cultures throughout history to achieve a sense of inner calmness and clarity. By relaxing your body and brain, it’s easier to quiet the distracting thoughts that keep your mind buzzing.
Studies have shown that meditation can help reduce cortisol, which is the hormone associated with stress.
Whilst 25 minutes per day is optimum, just taking 5 minutes daily has been proven to improve focus, self-compassion, mood, immune function and quality of sleep.
Make rest part of your routine
Resting is a habit that needs to be introduced and then repeated over a sustained period of time. Research shows that when we schedule any activity, including rest, it maximises its positive effect on our body, mind, and emotions. If you’re not good at resting, schedule it by using an alarm or calendar.
Identify your specific needs
It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Rest can include physical, emotional, mental, and social rest activities.
Walking may not be a good type of rest if you’re physically exhausted. However walking, particularly in nature, is a good way to restore your emotional and mental energy.
Meeting friends can be the worst thing to do for those who need social rest, but it can be an effective strategy for those who feel recharged by social interactions.
That’s why resting well requires deep self-knowledge. Rather than following what others do to rest, spend some time understanding your specific needs and designing your rest activities based on where you find the biggest deficit.
When do you know it’s time for a break?
Your body will tell you before your mind. Your jaw starts to clench, your shoulders start to go up to your ears and you hold your breath.
Excessive busyness may trigger or exacerbate muscle tension/pain, insomnia, headaches, inflammation, fatigue, digestion issues, a change in sex drive, cardiovascular disease or a compromised immune function.
If you recognise some or all of these signs you are too busy and it feels like they’re present in your life more often than not, it may be time to pause and reflect.
Having a treasure box of rest practices is a game-changer for the modern, plate-spinning human. In rest, there lies so much power.
At first, it can be daunting. Resting can bring up resistance and it is something we have been conditioned not to do unless we are sleeping.
For many of us, pausing requires permission, and a safe container to rest. Communal rest, such as every time we take Savasana (Corpse Posture) at the end of a yoga class, or during a nourishing yoga day retreat, is the perfect way to embrace collective rest which can take us deeper into our own rest.
With proper guidance, a community of support and a gentle introduction to smaller nuggets of pausing in your day, rest can become a space of solace and relief. In deeper states of rest, there really is a feeling of nothing else being required of you. There is nothing you have to do. There is nothing you need to do in order to be enough. You are already enough.
It is really only in pausing that we get to glimpse at the true essence of who we are. We can put down all our to-do lists, all our striving, all our masks, and rest in simply being, as we are indeed human beings and not human doings.
We should take rest with a heart of appreciation and gratitude. Rest gives us the right setting to open our hearts and connect to our true nature.
It is comforting to remember that out of nothingness comes much greatness. Prioritising rest is not self-indulgent, it is self-preservation and essential to our very existence. I hope this post has inspired you to take more time to rest.
Becs McBride takes a holistic, functional approach to well-being and uses a range of tools including yoga, meditation, breathwork and somatics. Becs has helped people transform their lives for nearly a decade by using a combination of Eastern and Western practices.
If you want more advice on improving your physical and mental health, contact Becs today for a complimentary consultation.