The art of restfulness:how to identify what kind of rest you need

What kind of rest do you need?

Photography by Peter Rodgers

In my previous article I talked about why people are failing to engage with meditation or mindfulness despite its proven benefits to health, and how that just might be to do with the fact that people are finding it hard to change gear at the end of a busy stress-filled day. Perhaps we need to learn how to rest before we can fully engage with a meditation practice and reap the benefits that would come to us as a result?

So, are you ready to learn how to rest? We need to work out what sort of rest might be most helpful to effect that first gear change from “I AM going to throw a chair through the window” to “I MIGHT pick up the chair and look at the window but I am too damned tired to throw it. ” That first gear change depends on what has caused you to feel stressed out. Sometimes it is an overworked mind and sometimes an exhausted body, and sometimes a combination of the two. So the kind of rest we need depends on where the stress and the exhaustion is primarily, body or mind?

Handbrake on handbrake off?

When a car is at a standstill and we want it to move, we have to take the handbrake off, otherwise all we will create when we press the accelerator is a lot of noise and fumes. If a car is to be brought to a halt and we want it to stay stopped, then the handbrake needs to be on, to prevent it from being moved by some external force. Hold on to this information for a moment and we will see how it applies to ourselves when we are trying to work out what first step we need to take towards restfulness.

Handbrake OFF!

OK, first scenario….. you have been stuck in a chair all day at work (and too often this is a crap chair that makes your back shoulders and neck ache by the end of the day). Your boss has chewed you out about something that you can’t undo, the traffic was horrific and delayed you getting home, and you fall in the door so tired that all you want to do is flop in a chair with the remote in one hand and a LARGE glass of wine in the other. The first thing you need to do is take the handbrake OFF and get your body moving. Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? You are stressed out and shattered but all the activity has been mental not physical. So how to ease the handbrake off? Simple things: a walk around the block, a cycle ride ( to the shops to get your wine!), getting creative in the kitchen to make an easy supper, pottering around in the garden if that’s your thing, throwing chairs through windows (as a last resort). By choosing a simple activity that gets the body moving we help to release pent up energy from the body and ease out the kinks of being desk bound all day, whilst letting the overworked mind go AWOL for a while so that the evening ahead just might feel a little more restful. Going to a class straight from work whatever that might be, spinning, yoga, kick-boxing, aerobics, dance, or a session at the gym, is an absolute life-saver for desk-jockeys. And yes it takes a bit of rocket fuel to get yourself there, but a brilliant way to change gear, and when you get home? Wine, TV, and no expensive glazing bills to deal with tomorrow.

Handbrake ON!

A different scenario….you have been at home all day with the kids, so whilst you have had to use your brain to multi task like a demon, your tiredness is mainly physical. (And remember, unless you are a saint, spending a whole long day with small children can drive you crazy, even Mother Theresa would be breaking into the drinks cabinet by 11am….) Because the body is likely to be exhausted, the handbrake needs to go ON. Let the body be still for a while. The kids are finally in bed and have stopped issuing extra demands – a drink, a cuddle, a different teddy. (One of my divine offspring once famously called me in to the bedroom because their cuddly penguin ‘needed combing’….this was at 10pm after a 5am start….this particular child has survived to adulthood though I am not sure how). So, take this opportunity to lie down on the floor (and yes there may be chaos all around you which for those of us blessed with OCD is going to be a challenge in and of itself) set a timer for ten minutes and let the riot of thoughts wash over you, as you focus on your breath and allow the whole body to relax. Allow your mind to ponder on what would nurture YOUR mind, ambitions, and creativity, that has NOTHING to do with your responsibilities as a parent? It could be anything you feel has had to go on hold as a consequence of your new responsibilities, maybe resurrecting an old hobby? The reality may be that you have four loads of laundry still to do, a scale model of the Eiffel tower to get glued together for show and tell tomorrow, (no-one believes your kid made it by the way…) a dog that needs a bath thanks to the kids experimental finger-painting, and papers that need to be marked by tomorrow…..but we can dream! And maybe just maybe that ten minute rest will give you the inspiration you need to stay relatively sane as a parent.

Slipping into neutral

So essentially what we are learning to do is identify that first shift, just to get us from fifth gear to fourth, maybe then we can get from fourth to third…..and eventually, when we reach neutral, we drop back into the feeling of restfulness, as if we were falling back into the arms of someone we trust with our lives, and this is someone we can trust. Our own good self. And it feels SOOOOOO good! !

In the next instalment on restfulness we will explore ways to discharge tension from the body and relax the mind after a desk bound day…..



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