Why Bother to Rest?
When I began practicing yoga, more than five years ago, the hardest part of any practice always came at the end of a lesson. When the instructor told us to lie flat on our backs, eyes closed, feet flopping away from each other and to breath slowly, I wanted to roll up my mat and run out of the room. I understood the benefits of moving in and out of the poses; they made me feel alive, powerful and strong. But lying immobile for the last five minutes of a class, made me wonder, why waste time lying still?
It had not yet dawned on me why this last pose of the practice, called Shavasana, or corpse pose, was just as crucial as any of the other poses. Then, one particular teacher made a statement that changed how I thought about taking a rest.
“Let the floor hold the entire weight of your body,” she said one day while I lay on my mat peeking up at the clock waiting to be done with reposing. But that day, for some unknown reason, her words, like a key unlocking a treasure chest, clicked and I released something I never knew I was holding; tension.
Of course the floor will hold my weight. Yet I’d never allowed my weight to be held by it. Sure I was lying down, but more like a stiff corpse than a fully relaxed one and my insides stirred like a racehorse waiting to start a race. But on that day, I let out a sigh, smiled and relaxed. The floor joists held the entire weight of my body and did not cave in. I felt something new inside my body; release.
Resting has never been easy for me. As a kid, when Mom designated “nap time,” and spread a blanket out on the living room floor for us to lie on, I usually squirmed, wiggled and rolled until we could finally get up. Nap time was a painful part of childhood.
As an adult, I’m not comfortable walking away from unfinished work. Emails call out for my attention, the laundry waits to be sorted, a check book needs balancing and dishes don’t wash themselves. Some days, twenty-four hours do not seem like enough time to accomplish everything.
Sundays used to be a day of rest for a large part of the population. People went to church, took a drive out in the country or sat on their front porch swings taking in a summer breeze. Nowadays, natural pauses that were once built into our culture are gone. People can listen to a sermon from their phone while doing the dishes and you can shop online any day of the week at any time of the day. Online stores never close. Convenient? Yes. Needful? I’m not sure.
Hypervigilance to any task, even a good one like yoga, can actually diminish the benefits you gain. Too much of anything takes its toll on our bodies and our minds. A rest is necessary to regain perspective, momentum or a train of thought.
Taking steps away from the computer, the laundry, the dishes, or the phone will not bring an end to the world. I do not encourage rolling out a mat and lying down on the job, but I do advocate for letting out a sigh to release unease, or raising one’s arms, reaching for the sky and taking in the view.
Why bother to rest, even for a few moments? It is worth it because, “There is power in rest,” says one of my yoga teachers and now I believe her.