by Areta Kohout
Slow Down, Rest, Be Still, Find Peace…
When I was growing up in Chicago, my parents gave us kids the gift of spending our summers on a farm in Wisconsin with my mother’s parents. My grandparents were immigrants from Ukraine who lived a simple life, but they made each day seem magical as they worked around their 10-acre farmette.
Animals were tended to, gardens cultivated, bees kept, meals created, laundry hand-washed and hung to dry, jams and pickles canned, barns fixed, and the aroma of baked breads lured you out of bed in the mornings.
Though they worked hard, they also made time for rest. I still remember my grandfather coming in every afternoon from his farming or carpentry work or beekeeping to eat a lunch made by my grandmother from produce straight out of the garden. After lunch, he would take his daily rest. We would be sent outside to play so that my grandfather could have his quiet time.
He lived to 92, largely because he was in tune with the rhythm of his body. He was physically busy and spent most of his time in nature, and he allowed himself the time he needed to rejuvenate daily. He instinctively knew that lying down for 20-30 minutes would nourish his body and mind, giving him the biochemical kick he needed to get through the rest of his day. For him, rest was about self-nourishment.
The practice of Ayurveda explains that our bodies have a 24-hour biological rhythm, and that it knows when it needs rest. Rather than taking the rest we need, often the middle of the day finds people reaching for a coffee because their bodies are telling them that they are tired.
Renowned yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., offers an explanation of this tendency in her online course “Deep Rest – A 21 Day Challenge.” She states, “Our western way of thought is that we have trained our minds that success is doing. We have devalued sleep/rest and think we can just push through—that our day has more meaning if we stay busy.”
We underestimate fatigue, which often presents itself as emotional stress. Yet we are continually pushing through the day with work demands, family issues, friends, social media, deadlines and constant messaging. When do we shut down? How can we find the time to reboot ourselves when we are not even willing to shut down our smart phones?
The good news is, 20 minutes of daily rest might be the key to rejuvenating your body and mind, and may profoundly improve your lifestyle.
I asked Lizzie Lasater, M.Arch.RYT, and daughter of yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater, about the 20-minute time period. Recently, mother and daughter have teamed up to offer online training for teachers and students. She explains:
“For the average person, it takes the body 15 minutes to relax or to reach the state of Pratayahara. The next stage, Asunia, is when we move into our body clock—our body time—allowing for re-programming of our parasympathetic nervous system. This shift into the parasympathetic system is important because it helps stabilize and improve our long-term functions, such as our immune system, our circulatory system, our digestive system and our hormones, including fertility,” says Lasater. “After 20 minutes of rest, your mind goes into an empty state, similar to wiping a chalkboard clean, giving you the ability to think more clearly and reframe our focus.”
The old world tradition of an afternoon siesta dates back thousands of years for Spain, Italy, much of Europe and most of Latin America—and is still alive today. The term “siesta” comes from hora sexton, which means the sixth hour. This tradition was once thought to be a physical necessity to restore our energy levels.
In the U.S. resting is not as valued in our cultural tradition—at least not yet. But we’re gradually moving closer to this lifestyle, as our demands are now 24/7. Some companies, such as Google, are embracing a nap-friendly schedule because they believe that it directly increases productivity. In fact, back in 1992, a detailed NASA study found that a 26-minute nap improved performance 34 percent and alertness 54 percent.
Lauren Goggins, founder and owner of Bottom Line Yoga (BLY) caters to corporate clients in Chicago’s Loop. With two yoga studio locations (Chicago Board of Trade and the Lyric Opera House), the appeal is as diverse as her clients. Goggins has taken her traditional yoga studio and expanded it to include a napping/meditation lounge during the midday hours.
Ian Eccleston, a regular at BLY, says, “I often found that I was groggy in the afternoon. By taking a 15-20 minute nap/meditation session, I found that I was more alert and productive for the rest of my day—and happier to boot. I make sure I work the rest time into my schedule.”
Some professionals hold memberships to BLY studio just for the nap space, so that they can rest in the afternoons. BLY provides the space equipped with Japanese style blankets, bolsters, eye pillows and access to guided meditation apps, if interested.
Goggins herself is a fan of daily rest time. “My body’s natural cycle is to want something between 1 and 4 p.m. Some people reach for a coffee, some work out, others push through, but I go and lie down in our nap space,” she says.
The Lasaters launched their newest online course, “Deep Rest – A 21-day Challenge” in January 2017. Lizzie Lasater confirmed the benefits of rest as we spoke about my months-long struggle for sleep. I began the online courses offered by the Lasaters, and in the depths of my stress, the section based on Judith Lasater’s book Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, relaxation found me. It prompted me to start a daily rest/savasana practice for 20 minutes. I found that I desperately needed this rest time. It was like plugging into an outlet to restore and recharge my over-stimulated body and mind.
“As a society, too many of us carry around and store untreated loss, anxiety and stress. A deep, daily rest is a form of meditation,” says Lizzie Lasater. “The resting pose allows us to experience how much we hold in. The silence allows us to reframe our focus and retrain pathways into the brain to form a relationship with rest and with our bodies.”
The benefits of rest as outlined by Judith Hanson Lasater:
- Allows us to disengage and disconnect from our thoughts
- Helps our mind and body to let go of stress
- Heals our parasympathetic nervous system
- Helps our body to biochemically let go of feeling anxious
- Teaches us how to find transition into sleep
- Teaches us how to relax
- Helps us develop a habit of simply observing our thoughts (meditation)
Relaxation Practices from Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life
- Find a quiet place on the floor with a mat or on your carpet.
- Keep minimal props handy, such as pillow or folding blanket for head, a bolster for under your knees, a blanket to cover your body for warmth and a cloth or eye pillow.
- Lie down with your props in place and set your phone alarm timer for twenty minutes.
- Turn your attention to your breath, gradually slow it down and increase the depth and breadth.
- Let yourself feel heavy with the floor and props. Let the thoughts come and go. Focus on the sensation of your breathing. This will bring you out of your mind and into the present moment.
- When your alarm goes off, take your time. Roll over to your side for a few moments. Move slowly as you ease back into your day.
- In the mornings, schedule a time when you can rest for twenty minutes.
- If traveling, close your eyes as soon as you board the plane until it levels off after take off or for the twenty-minute descent.
- Make yourself a priority. When you get home tell the family you need twenty minutes alone, then go and practice before you start dinner, mail, chores, and tending to the family’s needs.
- Turn off your cell phone.That text or call can wait a few minutes.
Mantras for daily living – rest and relaxation
I will nourish myself by making time for a 20-minute relaxation everyday.
Never pass up a chance to do nothing.
When I think that I don’t have time today for a 20-minute relaxation, that is a sure sign I really need it.
Rest is different from sleep, and I need both every day.
Lying in Basic Relaxation Pose is an act of love and courage.