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Standing on my soapbox: The importance of rest

If you have seen some of my more recent social media posts, you may have noticed that I have been talking a lot about deliberate rest, and I am being deliberate when I use the word deliberate. When was the last time that you let yourself rest? I mean truly rest? Not with your phone in your hand, not with Netflix on, not while thumbing through a magazine. Resting without distraction. Resting without an agenda and even resting without sleep. I know it may sound crazy and foreign to you, but it is something that I have been doing that has drastically changed me, let me explain…

​A couple of months ago I was on a zoom call with a group of ladies from my yoga therapy program, we were meeting to co-teach and learn from each other about how we can become better yoga therapists. So, it was my turn as the role of the client, and I started by explaining to them that I have a pain in my back (you may have read my social post about this the other day); so, the other girls were taking turns offering me yoga therapy movements to try. One of my dear friends saw that in the background of my yoga room was a giant yoga or exercise ball, she asked me to get it and to lay on it, on my belly and just allow my back to round, to allow the ball to hold me up and support me. Well, I sat there for a while and the tears started to well up in my eyes, I was feeling such a release of tension. The other ladies got quiet and just watched and held space for me while I cried and rested. That is what was happening, for the first time in months I was feeling a sense of rest. When I was ready, I was able to tell them that I honestly don’t ever let myself rest, that I don’t know how, and it makes me uncomfortable.

Sure, I meditate. Yes, I do yoga. Of course I sleep. Sure I read, but sitting in rest without the phone in my hand is not something that I do. And if I am being perfectly honest, I am either forcing myself to sit still, moving or sleeping. I can sleep like the dead and I always thought that an extended afternoon nap was resting. And again, with the honesty, I’m not talking about a twenty-minute nap, I am talking about a two-to-three-hour comatose sleep. But I wasn’t sleeping to rest, I was sleeping to hide, to run away, to withdraw, to avoid and to dissociate. My friends suggested that rather than trying to fix the pain in my back, that I should start with rest. Deliberate rest.

And that is how this journey to rest began, taking a couple of minutes everyday to rest on my exercise ball. Then I began to explore some different restorative yoga poses, even though I am a restorative yoga teacher I rarely took the time to find the poses that I truly love and feel nurtured by (here’s a little tip, each restorative yoga pose will feel different for each person, one’s ultimate rest pose is someone else’s princess and the pea). The hardest part of deliberate rest was not so much the laying still, nor was it so much the quieting of my mind (I’ll touch on that in a minute), the hardest part of deliberate rest for me is letting my body relax. As soon as I stop moving, my legs tense, particularly my left leg, and if I don’t catch it in time then my glute muscles tense, and then surprise, surprise, my back starts to tense. If I am really hyper and wound up then my tongue pushes up into the roof of my mouth, hard. So I may look relaxed, but my body is fighting it whole heartedly.

It has taken me lots of trial and error and patience to “yoga therapy” myself into deliberate rest.

First of all, I had to learn that deliberate rest is not about quieting my mind, that is what my morning meditation is for. I had to give myself permission to let the thoughts come and go, some of them, I give airtime and let myself go deep into a thought if it needs to be thought. During my time of deliberate rest is sometimes the perfect time to think the thoughts that need space and attention.

Secondly, I needed to learn that it is okay and actually very, very restful to listen to a guided yoga nidra while I’m resting. Yoga nidra is designed specifically for that reason.

Thirdly, I needed to learn that there is a place for me to rest that is not in my bed. As soon as I lay in bed, I fall asleep. The remedy to this was to again explore restorative yoga poses, using all of the props that I have, using lots of pillows, blankets and support, or using the ball.

I have also learned that making my rest a sacred time, a sacred tradition of sorts has helped it become something that I relish in. I go into my space, I light a candle or use my diffuser, I close the curtains to soften the light. I listen to my yoga nidra or a carefully curated instrumental playlist. Also, my phone is on do not disturb. My family knows that this is not the time to talk to me and to even open the door. I try to rest in the afternoon, usually at that time when I am starting to feel stressed and frazzled.

What I have learned is that giving myself this time is not only good for me, it is important and can change the trajectory of my day. Also, because of my new resting regime I experience less back pain. This is not to say that the pain is gone completely, but rather it is no longer an everyday problem. It sneaks up on me once in a while, and when it does it surprises me. When the pain does come up I am more able to handle it, I get less frustrated because I have more bandwidth to be able to deal.

Deliberate resting has become a bit of a soapbox topic for me. As a society we do not allow ourselves time to rest and it is affecting EVERYTHING. By running at the hectic pace that we do we are running to the point of complete depletion or burn out, and when that happens our bodies react with dis-ease and sickness, costing us days at work or time lost with our loved ones. By taking just a few moments throughout your day to focus on what you are feeling internally, how you are breathing and your true mental state at the moment you can avoid the consequences of end-of-the-day exhaustion.

Deliberate rest does not have to be a forty-five yoga nidra, it can be a five-minute, self check-in in the stairwell of your office building. It can be what you have time for. Not everyday do I have the time to rest for a long period, but by doing so when I can I am gaining space between the days that I need to. What I am trying to say is that because I rest as frequently as I can, I have more good days between the rough days. Let’s say that I was having a rough day every other day (and by rough, I mean physical pain or mental and emotional exhaustion), now because I practice the art of deliberate rest I may have one or two rough days a week, and not even full days, but moments.

My deliberate rest practice has also made me a better human, honestly. I am a lot less reactive; I have more patience and an overall sense of peace. In fact, at the end of every practice, whether it be five minutes or fifty minutes I remind myself to carry the feeling of peace with me through the balance of my day.

And in the spirit of honesty, I can say that my rest practice is keeping me going right now; you see I have started with a new therapist, and we have been looking at my trauma. And because my trauma is so in my face right now, I need to rest all the more. Taking the moments of rest is allowing me space to process or not. I can choose if that point in time I want to deal with my trauma or set it aside for the time being. The beauty of the practice is getting to make the choice between the two, rather than random traumatic thoughts hijacking my day.

This rest experiment of mine as been happening since the spring and I truly believe that it has changed my life for the better. I know that I deserve deliberate rest. I know that I am worthy of that time and investment in myself. If you are still reading this, I urge you to find some time for rest. At least once this next week can you schedule yourself rest? It doesn’t have to be meditation, it doesn’t have to be a massage, a bubble bath or a walk-in nature (although all of those things are lovely), it can be five minutes in your car, in silence, before you go into the house at the end of the day. You too a worthy of rest, make the time for yourself, you wont regret it.

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