The modern world brings forth many dilemmas that impact on our health but in my opinion, none more prevalent than the ability to rest and be quiet. As a child of the eighties, I remember Margaret Thatcher’s legendary 4 hour sleep somehow seeming virtuous, whatever her politics. With our 24 hour culture, we want to be able to do anything at a time which is convenient for us including eating, shopping, getting a medical diagnosis, perhaps all in the name of productivity and efficiency.
Increasingly, there is a recognition that this may not be optimal for our physical and psychological health. Satchin Panda in his book The circadian code explores how our biological rhythms are set and when it may be optimal for us to sleep, eat, and exercise in order to be healthy, grow and restore. Alongside this, It has been known for a long time that the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system which is active at rest, helps us regulate body functions such as digestion, sleep and growth. Moreover, increasing evidence suggests that dysfunction of our finely balanced nervous system through stress can lead to widespread physiological change and ill health (1, 2). Learning how to regulate the nervous system may improve overall health (3).
Rest may be just as important for our body as movement. When I am faced with patients who find it difficult to sleep, difficult to switch off, difficult to rest, I find myself wondering how as a society, we can shift the tide.
As David Whyte puts in his book, Consolations, to rest is not self indulgent, it is to prepare to give the best of ourselves and arrive in a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.
When we rest, there is a fear of not being productive, of missing out, a fear of the silence. But perhaps, rest enables us to be more productive and creative. My interpretation of Pabulo Nerudo’s poem Keeping quiet is that resting enables us to understand ourselves better, to experience what it is like to be connected to others, to nature without words, without action. To observe and be curious, away from the continuous motion of life.
Restorative yoga is just one way of resting. There are others. However, for me, restorative yoga creates the conditions that allow the shift of the nervous system to a place which feels secure, it enables the body to be held and the breath to be explored, reducing the external onslaught to the senses and allowing our physiology to reset, repair and grow.
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1) Sapolsky 2004. Why zebras don’t get ulcers.
2) Porges et al. 2011The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation
3.Davidson, R. J., and McEwen, B. S. (2012). Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being. Nat. Neurosci. 15, 689–695. doi: 10.1038/nn.3093
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