In today’s fast-paced culture, we cannot over-value the benefits of rest.
Rest is a yin activity, and serves to enhance the qualities of nurturance, relaxation, imagination and introspection. It naturally balances the predominantly yang energy of our time, where we tend to emphasize the rational mind, logic, structure, extroversion and “getting things done”.
Signs of excessive yang include restlessness, anger, insomnia, an inability to relax, addictions and a need for constant stimulation.
By setting aside time for quiet, rest and contemplation, we can balance this predominant energy, and get in touch with our creativity, our innate wisdom, our resilience and our breadth of perspective.
Here are a few simple ways:
Get a Restful Evening Routine
In the evening, favour activities that are gentle and non-stimulating, such as light reading, art, journaling, simple chores and time with loved ones. Reduce or avoid stimulation before bed — this includes computers, cell phones and televisions, especially after 8 pm.
Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Try to keep the bedroom just for rest and intimacy (e.g. no electronics!)
As much as possible, try to follow the ayurvedic clock, going to bed by 10 pm and rising before 6 am to align with nature’s rhythms.
Your daily meditation practice is your best tool for keeping a clear and relaxed body and mind throughout the day. Meditation is more regenerating than sleep; your daily practice both reduces your need for sleep and helps you to sleep more soundly.
Work With Diet and Herbs
Ayurveda provides recommendations to balance the sleep cycle for each dosha. This is especially important if you are dealing with a sleep disturbance, such as regular insomnia.
Regular use of caffeine, sugar and stimulants can drain the nervous system, leaving us feeling “energized”, especially after 3 pm. Try instead to slowly replace these stimulants with herbs that strengthen and energize the body-mind without depleting the nervous system; some of my favourites include tulsi and nettle.
At bedtime, or when your nervous system needs extra care, teas made of chamomile, lavender or passionflower are also great.
You will be able to rest more deeply if you are also supporting yourself through regular bodywork (e.g. massage therapy, ayurvedic treatments, acupuncture, fascia-therapy, etc), where stress and accumulated impressions are removed from the body.
For at home treatments that you can do yourself, try massaging your feet with cold-pressed sesame oil before bed; this simple treatment relaxes the mind and the whole body for sound sleep. If you find that your mind is over-active from a busy day, you can draw the energy down from your mind by running cold water on your feet for 2-3 few minutes or through the legs-up-the wall yoga asana (Viparita Karani) for 10 minutes at bedtime.
Tune In. Often.
Most of the time, when we are feeling stressed, angry or overwhelmed, we can usually turn our attention and notice: “How much rest have I had this week?”
You cannot live well if you are living life exhausted. By tuning into our bodies needs — and by giving ourselves permission — we can find simple ways to support ourselves. The body’s needs are usually quite simple : sometimes it is just a matter of giving ourselves permission to go for a walk, take a meditation class, postpone our social plans or get a massage…
It is no secret that being in nature is incredibly healing. A walk in the woods — or even just looking out the window — quiets the mind, boosts the immune system and stimulates a physical relaxation response. Studies have also shown that forest environments are advantageous for those experiencing chronic stress. It never ceases to amaze me how easily new, refreshing perspectives come when I spend a few hours among the trees. For me, it is more regenerating than any spa.
Once of my personal favourite ways to rest is to go on silent retreat for a few days. It is incredible what a few days of not speaking can do to regenerate your body and mind, and to release accumulated fatigue. Silent retreats have long been used by seekers to enhance and support the process of self-realization.