Rest is like a quiet revolution, as powerful and deep as love, connecting us to essence, nature, and who we really are.
We are human beings, not human doers. In our modern culture we are over-worked and under-rested.
True rest plays a significant role in living an abundant and meaningful life. Without adequate rest, we lack strength and energy to fulfill our purpose in life and to make the most of this fleeting, precious time we have on earth.
What does rest mean and why are so many of us tired, rundown, irritable, ill, and/or estranged from ourselves and each other?
Where did we go wrong?
Why do we no longer have a day of rest? Why are shops open 7 days a week?
Why do we find it so hard to stop, turn off, and turn in, renewing ourselves in more nourishing, sustainable ways? What is this treadmill we find ourselves on — and can we get off it?
Why is rest important?
To rest is to be still, to be quiet, to listen deeply to that wisdom voice within, to lean in to the still point of the ever-turning world, as an act of remembrance.
This is why many people have an experience of "coming home" in yoga or meditation. As human beings there is a nostalgia, a deep longing, an ache in the heart, a melancholia for home, for true, deep nourishing rest, that only Home can give us.
This is why, in spiritual practice, such as Buddhism, we might speak of taking refuge. Deep rest is finding that innermost lodging, the deepest abode of our being. It is a sacred domain, infused with potent stillness, that can feel utterly refreshing on so many deepening levels.
In music, a rest is an interval of silence, held for a specified duration. Silence in the midst of sound has its own authority that can bring an audience into presence. This powerful interlude of silence can be breathtaking.
In Taoist yoga, we train in embodying the art of Wu Wei (effortless action, the beauty and freedom of non-striving). There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no one to be. What a blessed relief. We can finally rest, finally come home and drop in to the abode of timeless presence.
As we ponder the meaning of rest, we might miss its deeper nuance. We could reflect on rest as a state of non-doing — but it is so much deeper than that. For me it goes to the very heart of yoga, the deep bare, winter bones, where everything is stripped back, peeled away, and undressed.
As a teacher, my job is not to entertain my students with ever more complex, dynamic, contortionist routines that keep the class in a state of perpetual motion. My job, as I see it, is to point the way home, to guide students to the innermost core, their own abode, their sacred shrine, that has been there all along. Words limit the description of the profound experience that deep rest can bring.
We can step off the treadmill.
We can choose another way of being, and we can refrain from the urge to entertain.
We live in a world that is performative in so many ways. John Amaechi talks eloquently on this subject in regard to Simone Biles, who famously chose to take an Olympic pause, a rest, in order to attend to her mental health.
What kind of society do we live in when we prioritize performance and entertainment over true wellbeing? I am grateful to my mentor Ty Powers, who reminded me that my job is not to entertain my students. I took this deeply to heart, having had a burnout as a yoga teacher in my mid-thirties.
What I see now when people come to class and are given permission to stop and rest, is a deep sense of relief, like a long out-breath and a weight lifted from their shoulders. My aspiration is to enable people to leave a class feeling refreshed, nourished and re-energized because they took the time to stop, press pause, and get off the treadmill.
Restorative yoga and yin yoga are where I lean into, along with yoga nidra and savasana. Gentle, supportive, therapeutic, and deep are a few words to describe these practices of passive healing and non-intervention.
Yin has been described as the quiet practice. Both Yin and restorative yoga nourish the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn helps the body to rest, heal, and restore balance. By staying longer in the shapes, using props to support the body and leaning into the yin out-breath, we invite the relaxation response to naturally arise, cultivating a deep feeling of calm and well-being.
A few poses that I practice daily and consider the non-negotiable part of my day:
Savasana, which literally means Corpse Pose. For me, this is a penultimate pose that connects me to that silent domain of being that is both within my body and beyond my body. It is a state of deep resting and also a preparation for dying.
In the summer months, I lie like a corpse on the green earth, with the great wide sky all above and around me, feeling earth energy and heaven energy mingling as one. I reflect on the truth of the beautiful haiku by Mitsu Suzuki, in her poetry anthology A White Tea Bowl:
Fresh green woods
To the great earth
This is why I practice savasana daily and encourage my students to do the same. To die before we die is a practice at the heart of the great mystical traditions and is something we can train in.
Standing Meditation. I aspire to stand like a great oak or a giant redwood, with my feet planted firmly on Mother Earth, grounded in the reality of embodiment, my crown reaching to the heavens and my hands resting like a great heart on my belly. This pose is profoundly restful and helps to still turbulent waters in the mind. It is something we can easily practice throughout our day, as a moment of conscious rest, like a temple bell ringing.
Lying Butterfly is a pose I love to do daily. It calls me home, as I rest my hands on my hara (or low-belly), in a heart-shaped mudra and open my hips and feel the deep ground supporting me. It targets 3 meridians: Liver, Spleen, and Kidney and feels like a micro acupuncture session in five minutes.
Sphinx and Seal is another pose I practice daily for longevity, to keep my spine fluid and to nourish constitutional, ancestral chi. This pose encourages me to live bravely.
Seated Meditation is a daily practice of remembering who I am, why I'm here and what I can bring to this precious life. To sit like a buddha and still the turbulence of the mind is the training of a lifetime, turning the heart-mind towards freedom and love.
Guest post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Olivia Clarke.
Olivia Clarke is a mother of two daughters, a lover of whippets and horses, a dedicated yogi, and passionate student of the dharma. She lives in the UK, where she runs a stylish well-being haven and yoga studio on the Welsh border, ideal for private retreat and small groups. She loves to teach in intimate settings and really get to know her students.
Olivia's teaching style is a blend of yin and yang yoga, informed and inspired by Buddhist mindfulness. A degree in Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology and literature led her to the psychological and spiritual teachings of yoga. Originally trained in healing Shiatsu and Buddhist mindfulness with the late Sonia Moriceau, she interweaves her knowledge of Five Elements, Meridian Theory and Chinese Medicine into a depth teaching of yin yoga.
Now, Olivia's primary teachers of over 15 years are Sarah and Ty Powers (of the Insight Yoga Institute). She has also done a two-year training with Simon Low (Yoga Academy), various trainings with Shiva Rea, and originally trained in Kerala, India (1998) and the Bahamas (1999) with Sivananda Yoga, where she did a teacher training and advanced teacher training.
Feature image via Andrey Popov/Adobe Stock