Tis the season where I find a lot of sleepy eyes and low vibrations amongst those in my neighborhood. I don’t know why I should be surprised considering it’s right after Christmas. All of the chaos and frenetic energies of the season are starting to dissipate. We can finally relax. I’m sure in the subtle and not so subtle ways you were able to feel the excited, festive, choatic, or restless energies of the season even if you had a quiet and relaxing holiday. Perhaps you celebrate Christmas or you were just happy to have a day off work. Either way, I hope you were reminded of all that supports you and gives you rich nourishment in your life. I had an unexpected holiday, but it brought me great gratitude to remember to take time to rest.
It was about time that I got some much needed solitude and reflection. I knew this Christmas would already be different in that I was needing to reflect on the many things unfolding in my life. After I suddenly found myself nursing a bad cold, I wanted to take my request for solitude back. I was quite surprised since it was over a year since I had been sick like this. As I laid on my futon watching one Christmas movie after another while coughing incessantly, I started to realize the lesson for me on this holy day was perfect. Little snippets of this inner voice saying, “rest, rest, rest”, popped up frequently over the last few months but I must have ignored it more than listened to the warnings. This time of reconditioning has given me the opportunity to meditate on why we need to rest and how we can do it more effectively and consciously.
The Biological Need to Rest
There is a biological need for relaxation in our lives. Our nervous system is composed of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain in spinal cord. The PNS which consists of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This branches into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system in essence can be viewed as the “doer”. It’s the system that puts our bodies in flight or fight mode. These sympathetic actions were innately designed to keep us out of danger. It controls vital functions like raising blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rates. However, our parasympathetic nervous system is important to bring our bodies back into homeostasis, or normal resting levels. Without our parasympathetic nervous system we would be running around like we’re crazy all the time. Some parts of our bodies shut down so others can work even harder to keep us alive. On a much smaller scale, this isn’t much different than most people’s lives. We are constantly being propelled into a state of “go go go”. Our culture has conditioned us to always be doing something and this state of mind is becoming more of a habit than a choice with each passing day.
Instead of blaming our society, I’d rather focus on choosing how I can relate to society, my community, and responsibilities without the need of activating my sympathetic nervous system so much. That’s why there’s something called relaxation. The parasympathetic nervous system promotes us to go into a healthy relaxation state. For most people, the parasympathetic nervous system is weak. Just as all forces need an equal and opposite reaction, we need to be relaxing in order to counter balance the activity of our lives. From a yogic perspective the brief periods in between the postures and the deep relaxation (shavasana) are perhaps the most important parts of any Kundalini Yoga class. Deep relaxation is the time where one has done the work that is required and the rest is left to integrate throughout the body, mind, and soul. It is the space where the concept of, “let go and let God”, takes place. This lead me to contemplate all the ways in which I still need to let go and let God take over my life.
Resting does not mean you are Lazy
Being Lazy does not mean you are Resting
When a yogi is in a deep relaxation state, he/she is in a very alert or mindful place. When I am in deep relaxation I feel like I am in a place where time doesn’t exist, yet at the same time I am very aware of my surrounding environment. I feel melted into the earth yet supported like I am resting in a hammock. It’s the place where I hover right before falling asleep. I feel like I am gently captivated in a world that rests in between the world of contrasts, a place of zero. If I am engaged in any thoughts, then it is difficult to be in this place of surrendering.
However, some of us aren’t able to take a full 15 minute mid day shavasana let alone a 90 minute nap. So I wonder in what other ways we as individuals and as a collective whole can take time in our days for mindful relaxation. More importantly, when we are “relaxing” is it just zoning out into habits or consciously being in the present moment during our down time? This propels me to think of how I value my time when I am at work, with friends, and in solitude. As a result, I can enjoy my free time more authentically and therefore value my time when I am being of service to others. Here are two questions that I continue to ask myself in regards to this free time phenomenon.
How much time of relaxation to do I even allow for myself each day?
This is where many of us, including myself, have blockages surrounding being lazy. We have children/pets to take care of, work, meals to cook, blogs to write, community service projects, etc.. Soon enough, it’s late at night and we feel drained. Yet we accomplished something, right? Wherever we are in life, this is a good time to take a count of just how much time we allow for relaxation in the day. Self compassion and intuition will most assuredly lead us in the right direction in knowing the best times to relax and take action. Life isn’t perfect and there will always be those days that are busier than others. Those are the days when I am filled with gratitude for making sure I do at least one thing for myself every day no matter what.
In what ways do I relax?
This was a hard question. Many of us think watching netflix, our favorite tv show, or browsing the internet/facebook are common ways of relaxing. Although there isn’t anything inherently wrong with these forms of entertainment, I notice they tend to entertain patterns of behavior and not the need for true relaxation. On the other hand, there are times when you just have to be a human and enjoy these for what they are. Here are some ideas to start out with to bring more balance into when and how we choose to relax…
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. At the very least, wake up at relatively the same time each day (with no snooze button action). This helps sustain the body’s natural rhythm, especially during the winter months.
Know what to eat and how often to eat.
Set a timer for how long you need to use the internet, phone, or television.
Make a list of 3 things you need to accomplish each day and 3 ways you can mindfully relax each day.
Commit to your daily practice. Whether it is yoga, dance, meditation, or another creative outlet try to do it every day for 40 days. It helps to do it at the same time and place each day.
Lay down flat on your back to deeply relax for 5, 10, or 15 minutes during your lunch break.
Spend at least 15 minutes outside every day, rain or shine without an electronic device.
The first two are particularly important in that when we are rested and have the proper nutrition we are more likely to not only start our day right, but will be able to sustain it while completing daily tasks more efficiently. Ideally there should be more opportunities to relax.
These are all things I try to keep in mind every day. Some days are better than others and sometimes we need more reminding. That’s why our bodies are smart enough to tell us to slow down. If there’s one simple goal I can give myself for this new year, it would be to never diminish the importance of rest. These opportunities are a choice we must consciously make as they wait only for us to receive them.