The Medicine Of Rest
When I first started seriously practicing yoga, and then enrolled in my first teacher training about 2 years ago, I thought for sure that I would want to teach cool, advanced postures. I envisioned myself getting good at arm balances and inversions and developing sequences that got people into some pretty kick-ass shapes.
Over the last year, though, something happened. Having grown up in an athletic family, it's always been my tendency to "sweat it out" after a stressful day. Yet, I began to come home on these days and instead take my body over a bolster 15 minutes or so. Maybe taking one hand to my belly and one to my heart to FEEL myself. Just focusing on breath actually made me physically feel better than exerting myself – it made my body feel better because my mind felt better.
There are days when sometimes, yeah, getting a good sweat is the kind of energy release I need...but on most of those really stressful days, taking the time to renew and restore is the most pivotal for me. Rest is critical factor is avoiding disease and discomfort. And it turns out that, now, instead of teaching those advanced sequences, I teach gentle yoga to people who don’t come to class for a workout or to achieve cool postures, but rather because they commend that calling for calmness in their day.
Judith Hanson Lasater, the pioneer of restorative yoga, said, “yoga is not about touching your toes, but about what you learn on the way down.”
I was reminded of this yesterday when I did a private session with a new client, who came to me with so much anxiety she could barely breathe, and her body so tight she could hardly move. When our hour together was up, what I noticed was that she benefited more from allowing herself to let big sighs out than she did from a chair pose (where she would hold her breath).
Just like this woman's breath, how can any of us expect to grow when we cling to anything in life? If we cling to the breath, we don't allow the life force or prana to flow through us. If we cling to past experiences, we don't allow new ones to fill us with joy. And if we cling to our stress and anxiety (as so many of us too because it becomes habit) then we have no energy left for happiness and calm.
Thinking that I'd be an advanced-level yogi teaching advanced-style classes sounds silly to me now. In part, it's probably due to the practitioners we see in the media, but it is our own choice to place our attention there, give it worth, and let it be our sole motivator. We don’t need to stress ourselves out with expectations of fitness or limit ourselves to what society tells us that wellness means. Instead, we should ask ourselves every day what mind-body wellness means to US – and all of us, not just how we look.