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The Gift of Rest

“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.” ― May Sarton

Reflecting on the year has passed one word comes to mind “Rest”. The last couple of years has been destabilising for many. We are collectively exhausted from juggling, keeping tabs of our actual daily tasks and responsibilities, but also trying our very best to not let the stress and anxiety, get the best of us. It has been a tiring year. We are not only craving for a sense of normalcy, (re) connection, we are needing rest.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART, Kaplan,1995) suggests that the capacity to continually focus attention on a particular task or activity is reduced or lost through mental exhaustion. This state is referred to as “directed attention fatigue” and can result in diminished ability to accurately perform cognitive tasks, and to effectively regulate emotions. If we closely reflect on our lives, we know and feel that when we are depleted, we become agitated, perhaps less patient with the ones with love. In over 20 years of working in the corporate field, I’ve seen how burnout impacts motivation, leadership, productivity, and creativity. When we can’t replenish, giving back to our families, community, and work, becomes an uphill battle. The well is empty.

For a productivity junkie link me, rest is a practice. which means that just like yoga, I need to acknowledge and make space to replenish. The act of not doing anything related to work, studies or home life, invokes tension. I feel it in my body. There’s a resistance to embrace rest. Why might you ask? It feels like there's so much to do, I need to keep going. This is my anxiety talking. The deeper answer involves layers of stories and experiences I’ve come across in life. It’s complicated, but I do know why and there’s conscious effort for me to practice radical rest as I know its good for me, for my mental health and much more. What I know for sure is that when I feel rested, the breath and depth of connection I have with myself, others, and the work I do is much richer.

The first step is to accept that rest is needed, to feel the discomfort, perhaps the overwhelm. I go through a “productivity detox” process where everything feels unsettling. There’s a desire to reach for the phone, open my laptop, add more tasks in my to do list, go through the list of things I “must” accomplish. This is all normal. Once I let the dust settle, embrace stillness, I become more comfortable. It’s akin to our experience in our yoga practice – we recognise, acknowledge, become curious and nurture the call for rest. We deserve to rest. We are worthy of rest. You are worthy of rest.

Our yoga practice can nurture and fill our empty well. Practices such as Restorative Yoga, Yin, Yoga Nidra (body scan), and Meditation classes are designed to help us slow down. ART researchers suggest three primary means for replenishment: sleep, meditation and promotion of involuntary attention (Kaplan and Berman, 2010). Good news is that Restorative Yoga is a style of yoga that encourages physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. It encourages us to almost come into a deep sleep, a meditative state. Appropriate for all levels, restorative yoga is practiced at a slow pace (no flow), focusing on long holds with props to support the body, stillness, and comfortable breathing. It’s a practice that encourages us to let go, to soften, breath by breath. Allowing our nervous system to move from fight and flight (sympathetic nervous system) into rest and digest (parasympathetic nervous system). A meditative practice to combat everyday stress by emphasising receptivity over productivity.

Here are a few guidelines to help support you in your restorative yoga practice:

1.) Use props: Gather bolsters, pillows, blankets and cushions for support, a timer helps too. You'll notice that with the use or props/support, we can soften and release with much ease.

2.) Use your breath and cultivate awareness : Restorative yoga is about softening and releasing tension. Become aware of your breath, maybe utilise your exhalation to let go of physical tension in the body. Acknowledge discomfort, tension then allow yourself to gently soften, to let go.

Before you commence practice, start with a simple breath exercise: Count your inhalations and exhalations. Inhale for 1 , exhale for 2 until you make it to 10.

3.) Time: Start by holding postures and softening for 3 minutes. As you get more comfortable in stillness you can stay in postures for longer. Time is your friend. Slow down.

Here are a few restorative postures you can practice at home to decompress:

1.) Supported Childs Pose

Place cushions, pillows, blocks to support the head and torso. Let the knees draw out and slowly settle yourself towards your support. Linger here for a few minutes allowing the hips, inner thighs, shoulders to soften. Allow the head and torso to sink and settle into your support.

2.) Supported Forward Bend

Come into a seated position, extend the legs. Place pillows, or bolsters on top of your legs. Ensure that the head and chest rests on your props. Slowly fold forward, soften the back of the legs, feet and toes. Allow the body to release tension. Soften across and deep within the back of the body.

3.) Supported Side Lying (Left & Right side)

Place bolster or pillows on the floor. Let the side of the body rest on your support. Legs can be stacked on top of each other, or you can also slide the one leg higher than the other. You can also place a pillow in between your legs. Allow the arms to rest alongside the bolsters. Make sure you shift from one side lying position to the other. Soften and release.

4.) Supported Reclined Bound Angle

Rest the upper body on top of folded blankets, pillows, or bolster. You can also place support under the buttocks. Allow for the arms to rest alongside of the body, and if you’d like to, you can place blankets underneath each arm. Take the soles of the feet together, then place a block or pillows underneath each leg. Use as many props as you need to. Eye pillows can be soothing as well. Allow the body to soften here, breath by breath.

Vitality doesn't come the busyness of life, they blossom from rest.

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