Do You Know How To Rest? Learning a Life-Saving Strategy

I have had a complicated relationship with “rest” over the years. My first awareness of this was when I found myself unable to step down on my foot without excruciating pain. It came out of the blue from one step to the next. One moment I could walk and the next moment I couldn’t. It was quite the ordeal getting across town that day. I had to rest before I could take a step. I would take a few more steps and then rest again before walking further.

What is REST?

The first doctor I saw misdiagnosed me and gave me her prescription — go home and REST! I literally asked her, “What do you mean by rest?” I had no clue what she was talking about, but I certainly didn’t think I’d have time for it! At the time, I was in the middle of my Ph.D. program and teaching classes. I had a very tight schedule, and I could not even fathom what she was saying. I eventually found a doctor who diagnosed me and helped me find a solution that didn’t involve too much rest. Whew! And I went along my merry and busy way.

Many years later, I have been revisiting the idea of rest. First, I was given a book about rest called Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey. I had the book for at least three months before I gave myself the time to rest and read it (if that tells you anything). Tricia, an African American artist, poet, and theologian, is the founder of Nap Ministry and examines rest as a form of resistance against capitalism and white supremacy. Although I am not African American, I know what it is like to have been brought up under the pressure of capitalism and its dictates of productivity as the cornerstone of success.

Although I have engaged in meditation for many years, which can be seen as physical, emotional, and mental rest, I have been quite conditioned by the culture that says you need to be working all the time to be worthy. And, through teaching meditation to others, I became aware of how difficult it is for the average American to stop and “do nothing”– to just “be.” Many people have told me it feels impossible to sit at home and meditate or rest because they need to be cleaning, organizing, planning, etc. A lot of cognitive dissonance occurs when they are not performing a task.

Resting requires that you be willing to be with yourself without needing to accomplish something and that can be challenging. When you have spent your entire life focused outward, focusing inwardly, and becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, can be scary and uncomfortable. Everything you have refused to deal with by staying busy will rise to the surface to be seen and felt and let go of. That process is often facilitated by a teacher, coach, or therapist, but you can start the journey today. There are many ways of achieving the act of rest. Here are just a few ideas to get your juices flowing.

Pause Between Activities

This is one of the easiest things that you can start doing right away to help you get a sense of the importance of rest. I teach “pausing” in a lot of ways.

First, I teach people to pause during a yoga practice between sequences of poses. It is wonderful to just stop and breathe for a moment or two while the body assimilates the stretching and strengthening you have just completed. Weaving in a pause practice during yoga helps you remember to do that in the rest of your day as well.

Second, I teach people to pause in between accomplishing tasks. This gives you a moment to acknowledge what you’ve done, feel good about it, and leave a moment or two which are empty of doing. Use this time to be with the sensations in your body, notice how you feel, and be aware of any thoughts you are having. When you check in with your body, feelings, and thoughts, you have dropped out of automatic pilot and are present with your life.  

Third, pausing can happen at set times during the day. For instance, pause at the beginning of the day to be intentional about what you want to do (or not do), pause in the middle of the day (hopefully to eat lunch and rest a moment after), and pause at end of the day to reflect on how things went.

Enhance Your Ability to be Present

Rest is about presence. When we stop to pause or rest in some other way, we are enhancing our ability to be present in our lives. You can improve your ability to be present and rest through meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, taking a relaxing walk, etc. While you are “doing” something during these activities, I believe they can be restful and enhance your ability to feel connected to yourself—a priority of rest.

Sleeping and Napping

I was able to nap yesterday, and it was one of the more glorious afternoons in memory. I am not normally a napper, so this was pretty out of character for me. However I had decided not to engage in some activities that were going on this weekend and realized that napping was a better solution for my body. My body had been feeling a little run down and my mood had even dipped as a result. I did my normal Saturday morning activities, showered, and went to bed. When I got up, my body felt so happy.

We all know that rest is important for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. If you’re not physically rested, everything else can feel off. Getting a good night’s rest is essential. And, when your body is telling you it’s tired, let it rest. Learn to listen and respond to your body.

Take a Rest from Technology

One of the biggest time expenses is our phones and computers. If you spent just a little bit of the time spent scrolling social media and checking email on rest instead you might be amazed at what you discover. Focus on what is going on around you or inside you and increase your intimacy with your own life, instead of “friends” lives who you don’t even know. Don’t get me wrong, I use technology but I also know that it can be addictive and time-consuming without a lot of payback.

Stopping for a couple of minutes to relax and sensing into what could benefit your life can give you creative and surprising information. Recently when resting, I was moved to connect more with certain people in my life. These are real relationships that serve me well beyond the imaginings of relationships with people online.

Learn to Appreciate and Be Curious About Each Moment

“Doing nothing is boring!” This is a phrase I often hear when I ask people to set aside time each day to meditate. So, let’s talk about boring. Here is a story to demonstrate.

A meditation teacher instructed his student to pay attention to his breath moving in and out of his body during meditation practice. This is a common meditation technique. One day the student complained that following his breath was boring. The meditation teacher took his student over to a well and stuck his head into the water, holding it there so he couldn’t breathe. When the meditation teacher finally pulled his student’s head out of the water he said, “Now is the breath boring?”

A stark and somewhat cruel story, but I think it makes the point. So, finding something boring is about perspective. When you open your senses to the magic of being alive, how can anything be boring?  When something is boring, there is a loss of the ability to be curious. The moment you become curious about life, it opens up like a flower blooming in the spring. It is gorgeous, fragrant, and sensuous.

Rest and Digest

The parasympathetic nervous system is called the “rest and digest” response. The other half of the nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system called the “fight and flight” response. These are pretty self-explanatory. When you rest, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system. You nourish the body and allow it to digest food, emotions, thoughts, and experiences. If you don’t give yourself time to do this, the body ends up storing unprocessed life in all its forms. This unprocessed information might give you a headache, heartache, or other physical and emotional issues.  

When life is processed, by engaging in it and then resting from it, you will be more energized, happy, and ready for whatever the moment brings. You will be more in rhythm with your soul. May you learn to stop and smell the roses, feel all the feels, take the naps, and be endowed with rest.