The Gift of Rest

I recently had a precious friend of mine tell me that she experiences herself as having difficulty resting. At just the mention of the word “resting,” my body expressed a long sigh remembering how precious it is to rest. My friend and I didn’t pursue the topic at length, but since then, I have been pondering the gift of rest in my life. I thought about what rest means to me, how I do it, and what it offers me throughout the day. Day-resting is an essential part of my health and healing energies and something I rarely have to discipline myself to do anymore. It comes naturally at this point, except for those rare occasions when fun and frolic is at an all-time high, and I can’t quite pull myself away to rest. I remember that happening in 2015 when my sister and I went to Ireland together. There was at least one day, maybe two, that we were too excited to see everything and visit as many places as we could, and rest became lost in the thrill of being in Ireland itself! It happens, but I absolutely don’t make a habit of it.

Rest, in and of itself, is balm for the body and light for the mind. The decision to stop activity, slow my breathing, and be still is a source of renewal. I believe in my core that rest and stillness is good for us all. Rest allows us to continue being active in the world from a perspective of surplus and ease. Rest, even if done in the presence of others, offers a sense of solitude and savoring of the quiet. It is something I create inside myself when my sole attention is on resting. I notice my breathing move more naturally, which kindles softer rhythms to emerge throughout my body. It brings a smile to my lips, and I remember to feel gratitude for the simple things in life. I see the soft curving of the pathway so beautifully designed in my back yard, hear the sound of the birds each morning that soothes me awake, remember the gentle willingness of my neighbor to support me with simple tasks for my home. The natural reflections in gratitude bring a wellspring of energy back to my body and mind, and I feel ample capacity to return then, to the world of activity, production, and care.

Studies from Forbes and University College, London advocate the well-known benefits of rest:

  • Improves the memory
  • Serves as energy boosts
  • Reduces stress
  • Increases productivity. While taking breaks might sound counterintuitive, when it comes to boosting productivity, it’s one of the best ways to do so
  • Improves mental well-being. Workers need time to recharge
  • Enhances creativity
  • Amplifies healthy habits

Psychology Today names specific benefits from a slightly different perspective.

1.“Movement breaks” are essential for your physical and emotional health. The benefits of taking brief movement breaks have been well-researched. Constant sitting—whether at your desk, the TV, or the lecture hall—puts you at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Getting up from your chair to walk, stretch, do yoga, or whatever activity you prefer can reduce the negative health effects from too much sitting. Just a 5-minute walk every hour boosts your health and well-being.

2. Breaks can prevent “decision fatigue.” Author S.J. Scott points out that the need to make frequent decisions throughout your day can wear down your willpower and reasoning ability. Decision fatigue can lead to simplistic decision-making and stalling.

3. Breaks restore motivation, especially for long-term goals. According to author Nir Eyal, “When we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to help us execute our goals. But for a challenging task that requires our sustained attention, research shows briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation later on.”

Psychology professor Alejandro Lleras says. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”

4. Breaks increase productivity and creativity. Working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative. “Aha moments” come more often to those who take breaks.

5. “Waking rest” helps consolidate memories and improve learning. Scientists have known for some time that one purpose of sleep is to consolidate memories. However, there is also evidence that resting while awake likewise improves memory formation. During a rest period, it appears that the brain reviews and ingrains what it previously learned.

I have to admit there have been times when I felt guilty about putting “rest periods” in my day on a regular basis. I was aware that my primary purpose was to rest “my body,” and yet, over time, I realized I was actually stimulating my mind with these breaks as well. The research backs me on this which is a sweet bonus. One last thought about the healing benefits of day-resting. As I focus inward while resting, I can feel if my body is “talking to me” a little louder than is normal, and I can ‘tend to it.’ For me, tending translates into using my mind to imagine I can climb inside my body and listen closer, breathe into the areas that feel tension or fatigue, and soothe the discomfort with my attention, my breath, and my caring heart. I might even imagine soft cooing or soothing like a mother might do for her child. Not only does my body feel better with these sessions, but it changes something in real time ~ that’s the potency of healing.

I’m interested in hearing how you see your year shaping up - text or phone me; send an email if you’re willing. I’d love to hear from you!
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