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Redefining Rest

A colleague of mine has been leading their friends and interested parties in a focused practice of rest this month. In our current culture, we do seem to need help and prompting to encourage us to rest. There is a social pressure to be accomplishing projects all the time, and I feel it, too. My colleague has been inviting us to try out short periods of doing less and being present in ourselves. And it’s a little challenging! In my case, I have a hard time putting a task down while I’m in the middle of it. Sometimes we need to practice before we can get better at something. We may even need to practice resting.

When we think of resting, we often think of stillness. So, we lie down. Or we take a break from our task, but we stay right where we were before. If you are working on a computer and switch for five minutes to look at your phone, how much of you is resting? I’d like to offer a distinction between rest and stillness. Resting some of our parts can mean using other parts instead; if you’ve been resting your body while using your mind, you can rest your mind by getting up and moving.

Whatever we are doing, whether it is sitting, standing, working or exercising, we are always using some of our parts differently than others. Some of our parts are working while other parts are resting. If we continue working the same parts over and over, we can develop over-use issues. Similarly, parts that rest too often can suffer from under-use ailments. Finding greater balance in how we use and rest all of our parts can help our whole selves to function and feel better.

For me, my pregnancies were particular times of finding balance. They were times of greater discomfort, during which “bed rest” was not the kind of rest my body needed. Sitting and lying down had their own discomforts. Even when I was feeling aches and fatigue, it was still difficult sometimes to pause and change what I was doing. With practice, I learned to keep moving and changing activities frequently in order to avoid using one set of parts for too long.

For example, I did a lot of gardening during my second pregnancy. I would do some weeding and then rest for a bit by pruning some things, then water for a while, dig some dirt, and return to weeding. I would carry a load of zucchini in my left hand, then rest by switching to my right hand. This way I kept "resting" by continuously changing the way I was using my body. I was also resting due to my pregnancy by doing all of these activities much more slowly than usual.

Even when we are being quite stationary, such as when working at a computer, we need to take breaks. In this case, however, "rest" looks a little different. Maybe instead of sitting, we stand. Or maybe we move from the chair down to the floor. Even though it may not seem like much movement, positional changes alter the angles of our hips, knees, and ankles. They change how our muscles are holding us up against gravity, and the way blood flows through our bodies. That adds up over time.

For many of us, our minds are often over-used while many parts of our bodies are under-used. When we take a break from our current task, sometimes that means we switch from one computer window to another. This may provide rest to the parts of our brain that were focused and alert on the previous task, but all the rest of our parts are not getting to rest. Instead, what if you stood up from your computer, left your phone behind, and took a walk while thinking of nothing but the birds flying overhead and the crunch of frozen leaves under your feet?

We all need rest, but the kind of rest we need looks different for each of us. Building in periodic breaks while continuing to accomplish our tasks can get easier with practice. When we honor the need for each of our parts to experience rest, they will all have a greater ability to be strong.

(top image credit: @laurenhowlandphoto)


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