I first explored the phenomena of rest after a bout of poor health and burnout about 10 years ago. I recall reading David Whyte’s wonderful words at a yoga retreat –
To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bull’s eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.
It was several years later I read him describing a moment at work when he arrived at a meeting and asked Where is David? Everyone looked at him as if to say Well, he’s right here in front of us – you’re here! That moment of recognition that he was asking about where he was sent him home that afternoon to investigate how it was that he’d almost lost himself. Unfortunately, being in such a state of mind-full busy-ness and exhaustion is not uncommon. I’ve been there myself in the cut and thrust of corporate life.
I think Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith may have had her moments too. It was recently during an online sleep conference that I encountered her wise guidance on how to properly rest ourselves.
I talk about her book Sacred Rest in one of my book reviews. Like many informative books, Sacred Rest was borne out of Dr Dalton-Smiths’ personal journey with energy issues and the need for replenishment as a busy doctor.
Here I want to offer an overview of the seven types of rest including some of my own take on what is replenishing. A prolonged health journey and a strong interest in natural health for a couple of decades has resulted in many useful discoveries of my own about truly replenishing ourselves.
While resting our physical body is an obvious one and the one we are most obsessed with: How did you sleep? How many hours have I had? I wish I wouldn’t keep waking up at 3am ... (we tend to think about sleep a lot!), there’s a whole lot more to resting ourselves than getting a good nights sleep.
She explains that rest goes well beyond the need for good quality sleep and that when we are resting all parts of ourselves properly we will also sleep better, and therefore the more fully replenished and energised as a whole Being. It all made a lot of sense to me and I eagerly dove in for more.
A well-rested life is a secret hidden in plain sight. It is a life at one with God, self, and others. It’s a life strengthened by winding down the expectations of others and charging up your expectations for yourself. You become in tune with what you need to be at your best.
The 7 Types of Rest
These are the seven types of rest Dr Dalton-Smith has identified and my take on them. She points out that rest permeates every area of our lives. I think some simple daily practices can help us meet multiple needs too, so I’ve made some suggestions about this under ‘Daily Rest Practices’ below.
The physical rest our body needs extends well beyond just getting enough quality sleep, and includes the process of releasing tension in the body. It’s about allowing the body to be still (passive resting like napping or sleeping) or gently active with restorative activities such as yoga or meditation. As many people will attest to, when we do these things during the day, our quality of sleep is usually better.
Rest the body; sleep, naps, breathing, yoga/stretching, meditation, stillness.
Having a busy mind is something many of us can relate to and has been one of my biggest learning edges personally. Having always been a ‘heady’ person, my mind can be on the go virtually 24/7 if I allow it. Except that I find it’s not very fun or relaxing! Mental rest is about helping the mind slow down, giving the brain a break from processing information, having mental quietness and also being able to focus on one thing at a time. That might be the cup of tea in your hands or the dishes you’re washing.
Rest the mind; regular brain-breaks during your work day, music, silence, journalling.
Our brain and nervous system are constantly processing billions of bits of information and stimulus flowing in through our senses, whether it is light, sound, movement, touch, smell, taste or energy. I got a wake-up call about the importance of sensory rest after encountering post-concussion issues.
I discovered for instance that if I was to have a 30 minute lie down during the day, it made a big difference covering my eyes and wearing ear plugs; it removes some of the sensory input and gives your brain more of a break. Being in front of a screen all day can severely tax our mental resources, especially if you’re particularly sensitive like I am. Many of my coaching calls now happen by phone instead of Zoom to minimise my screentime. I often dictate articles like this instead of typing them on my laptop. In the evenings, keeping the lighting low, warm and ambient can really help the body to wind down and avoid disruption of melatonin production and your natural circadian rhythm. All of these things are examples of sensory rest.
Rest your senses; lying down or napping with eye mask and ear plugs, silence, turn off devices, turn down lights.
I talk more below about the daily practices that can help meet our needs across physical, mental and sensory rest.
I believe there are several doorways into spiritual replenishment and that we must each find our own. The question really is, are you even looking for one of those doorways? If you have a faith or religious practice already, it might be you simply want to claim more time for it. It’s so easy to let ‘non-urgent’ but important practices fall away when we have demands coming at us from seventeen other directions. It isn’t about wishing for more time, but actually claiming it for ourselves, even it’s five minutes of peace in bed before the kids wake up. While these days I have an hour-long yoga and meditation practice, some mornings I simply sit at my altar for five minutes and set up my day with intentions and gratitude.
When do you take time to feel the larger part of you that connects you to all that is? Your Spirit? When do you take time to sense God or the life force that flows through you and animates you? These things we can get from being in nature, sitting in stillness, sensing our connection to the Divine. Dr Dalton-Smith talks about reclining ‘in the knowledge of the Holy’.
Other doorways to spiritual nourishment are having a sense of purpose, connecting to a deeper meaning in what we’re doing in life or who we’re being, and being connected to community.
Spiritual rest: Doing things that provide meaning, meditation, spiritual practice, community.
The recognition of the importance of emotional replenishment might be one of the most golden nuggets in Sacred Rest. She highlights the importance of having a channel for expressing our emotions and what I would call being witnessed. It’s natural and important for us to feel our feelings, not judge them and let them come up, be there and move through.
Having someone(s) to share what we’re feeling is important, but I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve been single and not had a close confidant or friends nearby so I also feel we can hold space for ourselves at times too. It might be allowing ourselves to stomp our feet or scream into a pillow with frustration, putting our arms around ourselves when upset; it helps us feel what we’re feeling, move the energy and honour the emotion. This is also a reason I work with a coach or healer regularly, so I can process my emotions and integrate the learnings into my daily life. Journalling what we’re feeling, even when we don’t fully understand it, can also be valuable.
Dr Dalton-Smith also talks about limiting people-pleasing behaviours that have us constantly putting others needs ahead of our own. This would be one of the most common things I help clients with and something I’ve spent a good chunk of my adulthood learning myself. When we’re giving out more than we have to give, we risk becoming an empty shell; tired, resentful and unable to give any more. Learning to only give what we truly have to give, and to give to ourselves first is essential to a life of wellness and joy.
Emotional rest: Expressing emotions, sharing/being witnessed, therapy, journalling, self-care, stopping people-pleasing.
I think a lot of times we give a reluctant yes in places where we should give a truthful no and trust that the relationship can handle our nos. That’s what boundaries looks like, reclaiming your space, your ability to stay in a healthy place without pouring out beyond what you have to give.
Ever since I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (epic book!) I’ve thought creativity is a natural energy we all possess. I don’t mean we can all paint like Picasso, but we all have capacity for creativity whether it shows up in our work, how we set out our home or make a meal, or help the kids with projects. Any time we problem solve we are being creative. As adults we also lose some contact with that natural curiosity and what Dr Dalton-Smith refers to as wonder. We were great at it as kids! And then we got all ‘sensible’ and started adulting all over the place, and lo and behold, there goes our natural tendency we had for looking at things as if for the first time, and seeing and relishing in the beauty of even the simplest of things. She says creative rest is about the “experience of allowing beauty to inspire awe and liberate wonder.” It includes giving our creative thinking mind a rest and also might include enjoying nature, having beautiful things around you (fresh flowers in the house is one of my favourites) and making your spaces feel creative and delicious, whether it’s your office or your kitchen or your garden shed.
Creative rest: Making creative spaces, putting beauty around you, being in nature, resting the brain, being childlike.
Dr Dalton-Smith explains that social rest is “the wisdom to recognise relationships that revive from ones that exhaust and how to limit exposure to toxic people.” This is where we must bolster ourselves to say no to those invitations that feel like a pull on our energy instead of tank-filling experiences like being with those who truly nourish us. Who in your life adds to you? Sees you? Allows you to be yourself? Provides you with a deep sense of connectedness?
And how are you nurturing those relationships? How do you each nourish and further build that connection and closeness? I would add that this would include making sure you and your partner prioritise sex and intimacy and time to yourselves, which is vital for a healthy and happy relationship.
Where do you over-socialise and would benefit from more time to yourself to recharge? This is for sure worth checking if you know you are more introverted and thus get energy from having time on your own.
Social rest: Spending time with supportive people, filling your own battery, nurturing important relationships.
Rest is not for weaklings. Hollowing out space for rest is work… It means saying no. It means having limits with ourselves. It means having limits with others. It takes courage to rest in the midst of an outcome-driven society. It takes strength to walk away from good in the pursuit of better.
What kind of rest do YOU need?
How much of each kind of rest you need is very individual and depends a lot of who you are and how you live, work and experience life. It is a matter of experimenting with these seven areas of rest to see which fill your tank – and you’ll instinctively know which ones could do with the most attention.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a rest that you didn’t realise you needed. For instance, I wonder how many people don’t get enough emotional rest without realising how much they actually need it – that is having a way to regularly express how we’re feeling. This can be especially true if you live alone or don’t have a connected emotional relationship with the people you live with. We can begin to look for new ways to meet that need and in turn begin to replenish ourselves on all levels.
To rest is not self-indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.
Daily Rest Practices
I think several things hit the spot for physical, sensory and mental rest which means you can potentially do certain things daily to cover all these bases such as:
- Walk in nature
- Quiet time to yourself
- Laying on a shakti mat
- Yoga or stretching (for easy access classes at home I love Yoga with Adriene)
- Earthing is one of my favourites – I sit or stand in my bare feet or lay my whole body down on the lawn for as long as I have! A great re-fresher between meetings or client appointments.
- Laying in savasana (Sanskrit word pronounced shuh-VAH-suh-nuh) for 20 minutes. Savasana is a very traditional yoga posture that supports the nervous system into parasympathetic mode (rest and digest). This means laying flat on your back perhaps with a small pillow under your knees, arms palms up and slightly out from the body, feet resting apart, wider than your hips and gently turned outwards, neck in neutral (perhaps on a small cushion or folded towel), eyes closed. Breathe naturally through your nose.
Exploring Rest Further
If you’d like to get a better handle on your rest deficit, take Dr Dalton-Smith’s rest quiz here and find out what types of rest you may benefit from. Hear about her take on rest here over on TED or catch my book review on Sacred Rest.
Become your own genius of rest, and revitalise your self and your life!