“We really need to challenge the assumption that if you take more rest, you are more lazy. The fact that people who are more rested seem to have better well-being is an endorsement for the need for the rest.” – Prof Felicity Callard of Durham University, director of Hubbub
Yes, rest is good for you. It sounds obvious, but how many of us consciously take time to properly rest?
Nowadays, it is very common to feel that we don’t have enough time to rest or relax. Surely, we are all too busy with more important things to do. And does it even matter if you don’t take time to rest when you can easily plough on?
According to a recent study on the subject of rest by *Hubbub – the largest study of its kind involving 18,000 people from 134 countries – it was found that people who had fewer hours of rest scored lower on a wellbeing scale.
It seems that if we don’t feel rested our wellbeing is lower.
What constitutes rest will not be the same for all of us. For a small percentage of people in this study, tiring out the body through vigorous exercise allowed the mind (if not the body) to rest. For the majority though, time alone is what they craved with 64.8% of people saying they would like more rest. The most highly rated restful activities were often done alone, including reading, being in nature and doing nothing in particular. Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra (yoga sleep), both of which I teach, are excellent tools for facilitating proper rest and relaxation for both body and mind.
In the study it was also noted that when asked which words they associated with rest, almost 9% of people chose the words “guilty” or “stress-inducing”.
In these busy times we live in, it seems that resting causes some people to worry about what the things they are not doing, yet feel they should be. I felt the same, so in September 2014 I embarked on a year of daily relaxation practice which I called The 365 Savasana Project. This involved lying down for 20 minutes a day, every day in Savasana (Corpse Pose). Savasana is the foundation pose of Restorative Yoga and anyone can do it, as we can all lie down. That said, while it is very simple to do, it is not necessarily easy, precisely for some of the reasons Hubbub highlights. It is amazing how many times I felt guilty, or that I was too busy, believing didn’t have enough time to practise. However, I never once regretted taking this time to rest because I can truly say I always felt better afterwards. My sleep quality improved dramatically and my stress levels reduced.
This overlap between busyness and guilt over resting links with the underlying chronic stress that many of us experience.
Why stress reduction is important
In our modern existence we are often in living in a state of chronic stress. In other words, we are often in a ‘sympathetic nervous system state’. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of our autonomic nervous system that activates what is called our ‘fight flight’ response. For our cave-dwelling ancestors this would have been brought about by an immediate threat – say, running away from a predator. Our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension increase as we prepare to flee, while the systems that are non-essential in that moment (such as digestion, growth and repair) are shut down.
Nowadays, we are more likely to be contending with issues such as health concerns, job losses or money worries, but for our nervous system these things are still perceived as threats. On top of this, add living busy lives with near constant overstimulation from our surroundings (never mind our smartphones) and is it any wonder many of us feel frazzled? As explained in the book Relax and Renew by preeminent teacher, physical therapist (and the teacher I studied Restorative Yoga with), Judith Hanson Lasater, for our ancestors stressful situations resolved themselves quickly. For instance, if we escaped that predator, our adrenal glands would stop producing stress hormones and the systems in our bodies that temporarily shut down would go back into operation. Unfortunately, we are unable to resolve our stress so quickly. The result is that our adrenals continue pumping stress hormones around our bodies, hence we remain in a near constant sympathetic nervous system state.
Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that stress related illnesses continue to rise. Carrying on regardless is not a viable long-term option. Even the most resilient person deprived of proper rest will break eventually.
For the sake of our wellbeing, let’s prioritise rest as part of our self-care. Taking some time to seek out and enjoy the activities that you find restful could reap rewards.
If you are interested in private Restorative Yoga sessions with postures tailored to your individual needs or Yoga Nidra sessions (in SW London only) please message me. You can download a complimentary Yoga Nidra by signing up to my mailing list here.
Find out more about The 365 Savasana Project and how you can give it a try for yourself here.
*Hubbub is an international group of academics, artists, poets, mental health experts and social scientists. A full analysis of the data from Hubbub’s study on rest will be published within the next year. In the meantime, their other work on rest, The Restless Compendium, is available to download here.