How Yoga Facilitates Deep Rest
How often to do you intentionally plan Rest in your daily life? You love the idea of resting more but struggle to take it seriously. When the tasks ahead are endless and our responsibilities seem urgent, it's hard to step out of our busyness and take time to be still.
I understand that you may be wrestling with the concept of giving uninterrupted space and time to yourself on the daily because it challenges so much of who you are and what your role is in the world - you are a giver; a caretaker, an entrepreneur and a career gal.
Taking intentional and high-quality periods of rest throughout the day does not only feel counterintuitive but it is counter culture.
But scientific research shows us that self-
care is not only necessary for recovery but a springboard for productivity and creativity. Intentional period of rests are unequivocally in our favour to help us lead a fuller, richer life. For those of us who are tend to get easily overwhelmed with work & life stuff, intentional periods of rest teach us something very significant: we work better when we work less.
By the end of this blog, you will have a clear understanding of why rest is so important and how to rest skilfully. These nuggets of wisdom will provide just the kind of roadmap you need to implement juicy, fun and truly restful breaks. Hint Hint - I am going to be talking about yoga!
So let's dive in!
First off, what is rest?
At its core, rest is time we spend recovering the mental and physical energy that we spend sort of working usually for a salary either for someone else or for ourselves. And we tend to think of rest as something that’s entirely passive - like, watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram before we resume work again, right? While scrolling on social media has its place, rest is a bit more complicated.
And here are some myth-busters to clarify the idea of rest:
Myth No 1 # Rest is passive.
There is a whole bunch of restful activities that are active. First of all, there’s a lot going on at the level of cellular or brain repair when we sleep or when we’re just lying around, but activities like exercise, walking or doing yoga that are active are actually very mentally and psychologically restorative.
Myth No 2 # Rest is not a skill; it's just... rest. It's intuitive.
Rest is a skill. It’s something that we can get better at over time, we can learn how to integrate rest into our daily schedules to aid us in recovery and boost creativity.
While going through social media mindlessly or talking to a friend has its place and should be done, there needs to be a discernment around what type of rest yields what kind of results and how to choose rest skillfully when taking a break.
What we underestimate is just how physically demanding and taxing knowledge work is. The brain actually turns out to be really a very greedy consumer of oxygen. And so serious mental work can be as draining as physical labor just in a different sort of way. What science tells us now is that during down-times, when you clear your head and zone out and try and think of nothing, your brain doesn't just shuts off. What happens is that it shifts modes from conscious mode to something that neuroscientists called the default mode network, which is a series of connections between parts of the brain, particularly ones that involve visual thinking and creativity.
For example: You’re trying to remember the name of the actor who was in a TV show, her name is on the tip of your tongue but you just cannot remember it. And then five minutes later you’re doing something else and, oh, it pops into your head. That's the brain's default mode network working for you.
But if you’re checking your email at night or over the weekend, you can’t access that default network as well as you could have, you just completely stepped away. Similarly, If we don't purposely carve out this unrushed space, your brain automatically fills it with meaningless tasks like checking social media or watching YouTube which stops the brains problem-solving ability to kick in - the default mode network remains inactive.
I know this is easier said than done. It is really really hard to disconnect when the noise begins to feel so natural that we don't even notice it. Carving out an uninterrupted time can be hugely unsettling as we are used to the steady hum and almost unaware of how draining our choices of rest can be.
But if we trust the science of rest then allowing our mind to simply wander - unrushed and unhurried - sans technology is an investment in ourself, even if it feels counter-intuitive.
And I think this is what deep rest teaches us - the power of detachment.
Another thing that it teaches us is the power of having this rhythm of work and rest.
To be truly productive & banish burnout we need to give our brains a little space to play and explore - some unstructured time. And this is why I call Rest a skill - because it requires a huge amount of un-learning and growing out of a deep rooted belief that frequent periods of rest in a day is a waste of time. You are valuable as a human being whether you are productive or not. Productivity is not a tool to prove your worth but a tool to lead a meaningful life. And so is intentional rest.
How do we plan for rest?
If you are anything like the old-me (before I became a yoga teacher), you probably tell yourself
“Oh, you’ll rest when you’ve got time, when you’re done with everything" You never will, because we’re never done with everything ever.
A lady (who I was interviewing as a part of my market research) once said "The struggle is big for me. And it always has been about time management. It just starts to get really overwhelming in my head. So an hour of pure uninterrupted rest a day in my day doesn't seem that bad in theory but when I am busy trying to get all things done, an hour seems like the time I don't have. I don't know where to fit it in".
I don't think my interviewee is alone in feeling this way. The notion of having boundaries and creating 'non-negotiable' rest time sounds dreamy but often goes the wayside when we feel like we haven't done enough to earn the time. Why do we feel we need to earn the time to spend it on ourselves?
I want to challenge this notion by asking you one question: When we feel nurtured and nourished, doesn't it spill into how we work, take care of our families and connect with our friends? Or even help out strangers?
Practicing high-quality periods of rest does not magically happen unless we put effort into creating boundaries.
Time - blocking - Here's your actionable tip.
And so actually blocking out time for it, thinking a little bit about what you would really like to do, what type of rest really engages you, and giving yourself permission to pursue that knowing fully well that it's going to pay off in very direct and also indirect ways, is a critical component.
And from time-blocking a whole bunch of other good things can follow in terms of making better use of your time, being a better planner, being a little bit more ruthless about saying no to things that have marginal value in favour of having that full day where you can go for a hike or barbecue with friends ,etc. But it all starts with taking rest seriously and starting to block out time for it.
Why Yoga can be a source of deep rest and restoration. Moreover yoga really good for you, if you have really serious intellectual and professional ambitions.
Now we have come to my favourite part - making time for yoga
When you are practicing yoga (asana flow, meditation or breathwork), you have no choice but to focus on the moment and I think that's why it appeals to busy people trying to rest skilfully. And then there are serious physical and psychological benefits that arise from a well-rounded yoga session.
High-achieving individuals who take their yoga practice (or any other mode of exercise) seriously are able to manage their time better. Their self-care practice helps them manage their stress at work, gives them willingness to take risks, a degree of resilience, courage that translates from building skills on the mat. And so for all of these reasons, all kinds of sports and exercise particularly yoga is good for you if you have really serious intellectual and professional ambitions. I said yoga in particular as it also enhances a state of mental flow besides improving your physical health.
Moreover unlike most sports and exercises, you can keep getting better at yoga with age.
Yoga is NOT ALL about building strength or flexibility. When you’re young, it might be, but as you get older, yoga is something that you can continue to get better at even if you don’t get stronger physically. Like my late 94 year old grandfather, whose yoga practice in his 80s and 90s became more about mental control than about being physically strenuous. And he kept getting better at it over the course of his entire life. Yoga provided my granddad a degree of sustenance and restoration that can gave him a long and quite happy life for quite a long time.
So let's summarise why rest is important and how to think about rest:
Rest is time we spend recovering from the mental and physical energy dispensed when working.
Scientific research claims that Intentional periods of rest wherein our mind wanders sans technology or stays relaxed when doing yoga is where ideas are born and nurtured. It also proves that we work better when we work less and rest more.
Therefore Rest is not always passive. like any other skill taking periodic & daily rest requires practice.
Boundaries around rest often tend to go on the wayside unless we challenge our assumptions around rest, self-worth through productivity and embrace taking rest as part of our responsibility.
The best way to add alternate periods of work and rest is to time-block our rest time and trust that the payoff will be far more than being busy.
Lastly, expect to take two steps forward and one step back in this journey as growth is messy, non-linear and painful. But you know what's more painful than change? It is getting stuck in old ways and not taking time to rest skillfully.