The Art and Balance of Rest

I know I should sit up straight at the computer, and yet I often slouch. I feel the same way about the art of resting — there are things I know that I still struggle to put into practice. But here’s what I’m working on:

Rest is not a reward.

Until more recently, I think most of us have been conditioned to view rest as the end result — the prize we claim after pushing ourselves through the ringer.

We’re one of the only “developed” countries that doesn’t guarantee PTO or even maternity leave. The PTO that most companies offer is two weeks a year. Who hasn’t encountered (or themselves done this) someone working when they’re sick — and in some instances, even bragging when doing so? And has anyone with a two-day weekend ever really felt satisfied, rested, and caught up?

Sometimes I go on stunning hikes and trips to Yellowstone…

Society uses catchphrases like “work hard, play hard” and “you can sleep when you’re dead” to justify running ourselves into the ground. We work like crazy when the benefits rarely pay off. In most cases, the money is not enough and even when it is, the cost to our overall health is too high.

I could go on further about the evils of capitalism — and for anyone who thinks capitalism is a perfect system, I would argue that a country with this much debt, burnout, and health problems is not benefitting from this form of economics. 

But sticking to the main point, rest needs to be ongoing. We have to take more breaks. We have to set more boundaries, with others, our jobs, and ourselves. We must change the narrative from “rest is a sign of weakness” to “rest is necessary for us to be our best selves.”

Rest is recharging.

Sorry, Newton, but an object in motion does not stay in motion. Maybe in a perfect world, but definitely not here on Earth.

Doing anything at a constant or near-constant level leads only to destruction. We are statistically more productive when we take breaks. We last longer if we give ourselves time to recuperate and recharge — not when our bodies are begging for a break, but when we’re seemingly feeling fine.

I’m working on this book called “The Power of Full Engagement,” where the main takeaway is that everything and everyone needs to take frequent breaks. From waves to heartbeats, it’s natural for there to be ebbs and flows, upbeats and downbeats. Moving at the same rate without taking a break looks like a flatline on a heart monitor.

Rest requires us to listen to our bodies.

…and sometimes my boyfriend snaps pics like this of me. All about balance!

I woke up on Sunday and said, “I’m going to run.” I ate pizza and watched Harry Potter instead (though later did some backyard yoga). On Monday I woke up and said, “I need to run,” then didn’t because I wasn’t feeling great. On Tuesday, I actually went for a run and felt amazing.

Had I forced myself to run when I wasn’t feeling it, it would not have been enjoyable. More than likely, I would have stopped after 20 minutes, beyond exhausted and drained. I went for a long walk on Monday and listened to a podcast, and that was, in that moment, infinitely more rejuvenating (as exercise should be).

Success and worth can’t be measured in our accomplishments, as hard of a concept as that is to grasp. We are worse off when we push ourselves too hard to complete something, because most of the time, we’re drained and exhausted as a result.

For far too long, I’ve pushed myself past the limits of what I thought I was supposed to do and what actually, deep down, felt right. Here’s how I continue listening to my body, rest-related and otherwise:

  • If I feel like intensely working out (for me, running four miles), I do it.
  • If I don’t feel like intensely working out, I consider other alternatives, such as yoga or walking.
  • If I don’t feel up for any of those things, I don’t do them.
  • If I’m sick and know that rest will help me get back on track, I rest.
  • If I’m not feeling well but can get through something with little to no consequence, I get through.
  • If I’m hungry, I eat.
  • If I’m craving something “unhealthy” I sit on that craving for a bit. I listen to what it is specifically that I’m craving or in need of — craving chocolate for me is nearly always a sign that I’m in need of an energy burst. If I still have that craving, I eat it. Sometimes I don’t wait, because life is too short and chocolate is too good.

Something my mom always told me is that “The things that need to get done, will get done.” Sometimes the “when” is important, but the majority of the time, it’s not. When I started listening to my body instead of forcing a running schedule, I ran a lot less — but found that I love it a lot more. 

Rest requires balance.

This one I’m definitely still working on. Disengaging feels wickedly comfortable. Creeping on social media, laying on the couch, not moving a whole lot — it’s junk food for the soul, particularly when, like me, you work from home. But like junk food, it’s best in moderation.

Rest should be reading a book. Rest should be journaling or staring into space and thinking. Rest should be catching up with a friend, if that’s something that recharges (and doesn’t drain) you. Rest can mean being a vegetable on the couch, but I think that should be sparingly. And if you find yourself resting on the couch after work in the same manner every day, it’s probably best to examine what it is that your body and life is lacking.

Our bodies were made to move, but they were made to rest, too. When we strike a balance of resting and stop feeling guilty for doing so, we are healthier, happier humans who, not ironically, feel more invigorated than before.

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