Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Power of Rest


Are you totally exhausted? Seriously. Do you think to yourself, 'I wonder how I'm getting through this day on so little sleep?' and then do it again, and again? I hear this complaint more and more among clients and friends--some who genuinely have insomnia or issues staying asleep; and some who just don't make enough time for sleep, getting up early with kids and then crashing after a long day of catching up on work.

Of course this isn't great for our bodies. More and more studies show us the value of sleep for our body's sense of rhythm, rejuvenation and overall health. And yet most of us are walking around like zombies, half-asleep, with a layer of exhaustion like a hanging fog in the horizon of our minds.

Our bodies know the difference between a good night's sleep and the sharp awakening that comes with an alarm clock too early in the morning or the kids knocking or dog barking outside your door after only five hours of sleep. Good sleep feels soft and warm, our bodies open like rising dough and greet the world with an innate sense of hope and lightness. Challenged sleep increases paranoia and literally makes us feel less stable. How many times have you bumped into things after a bad night's sleep, as if your internal balance is off?

Lack of sleep affects our internal regulation, our metabolism and our mental clarity. It affects mood, memory and visual acuity. And yet it's something, separated from our bodies and tuned into a fast-paced culture, we almost always prioritize last. Why is that? If we really valued how our bodies feel on a day-to-day basis, I wonder if we could do that. It seems that so many of us have a deep and longstanding call to rest, one that is constantly ignored for other priorities and needs.

I challenge you to value your rest as one of the most important gifts you can give this relationship you're building with your body. What if you created a different way of thinking about it for yourself, acknowledging it as essential rather than something you'll get if you can? How would that change your relationship to your body or your life?

I know, I know. You'll rattle off the list of things that tug on you, the impossibility of more time for sleep. So perhaps you challenge yourself to one good night's sleep a week. Or maybe one morning a week (and you might have to trade off kid duty with a partner to do this) when you get to sleep in an extra hour or so, or have the privilege of not getting up to kids or an alarm clock. Even one day reminds the body of who it is, and gives you you access to your body's true functioning, its greatest gifts (and your own).

Rest is also found in moments--a choice to step away from the computer and stare outside the window; or sit with a book; or listen to music. Sometimes with stressed clients I will actually assign a block of 'rest,' to be put in their appointment book like anything else. One hour of stare at the ceiling, let your thoughts wander, nowhere to be, nothing to do time. If getting more sleep seems daunting, try giving yourself a restful moment and watch how your body responds. You'll get better over time at knowing when you need them, your mind over-full and overwhelmed. Rest restores us to sanity.

We are moving into the season of stillness and cold, when the flowering of trees shifts to bare branches and stiff ground. Listen to how rest might be a natural part of this, calling you to rejuvenate your senses, deepen your awareness of self and soften your body into a trust and reliance on your ability to make time for what it needs. Listen to the body's rhythms--even if your mind calls it inefficiency--how it calls you away from the phone calls and toward the cup of tea, the open mind, the silence.

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