Yogic Rest...

The wisdom of the body is all-powerful. Virtually every cell (with a few exceptions) is imbued with an innate ability to "repair" itself... to heal. Healing is the process by which the cells in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area. This regeneration and repair incorporates both the removal of necrotic tissue (demolition), and the replacement of this tissue.

This ability is called "innate intelligence" ... an intelligence born of knowing. Thus is the healing power of nature. This is the process by which the body restores, revitalizes and heals.

This truth is indisputable.

In our North American culture, much emphasis is placed on conventional science to bring about a quick fix for ailments and conditions. Our impatient dispositions crave rapid (if not instant) relief. Classically, "vitalism" - a term used to describe a natural tendency toward healing - is overlooked.

In many Eastern cultures where patience is still considered to be a virtue, healing practices include herbs, oils, teas, massage, postures or poses, chanting, breath work and most importantly of all, rest. For many of us, rest is an unknown. We have grown, as a society, to regard rest as something to be considered akin to laziness, even as slothfulness. Every single second of every single day has to be accounted for by doing, doing, doing.

Such modern technologies as Blackberries and instant text messaging devices have made us accessible to everyone, everywhere, at any time. Who was it that said, "There is no rest for the wicked"? Are we so wicked that we do not deserve rest? Our society works more hours than any society ever has worked before, yet we have more "stuff" and little or no time to enjoy it. Our kids' time is micro-managed ... no time to be just kids. How can we go any faster when we already are running at top speed?

At no time in our society has attendance at church been so low. What are we doing to fill our days? Libraries are closing, movie theaters are shutting down, community recreation centres are being reduced, all because we do not value free time, leisure and rest.

Rest is an integral part of the practice of yoga. An experienced yoga teacher will consciously program periods of rest into a class to allow a brief interlude between two postures, or between sets of postures (Vinyasas). This pause allows for integration and reflection ... a time to digest the effects. This is a period of relative inactivity to allow recovery and growth.

Many experienced instructors begin the class with Savasana (Corpse Pose). Savasana is the great leveler! There is no conflict or competition as students come into the studio, climb onto their mats, lie down, and close their eyes. Savasana at this point in the class is a beautiful way to come into the practice of yoga ... a bridge between the unreal world in which we live most of our lives, and the rich, inner world that we inhabit too little of the time.

It is a time of investigation, inquiry ... an acknowledgment and acceptance of what is. A place from which to begin. This is intelligent.

Rests during practice may be dynamic (moving), or still. They may also include gentle counter-poses (e.g., gentle Cobra - Bhujangasana following Shoulder Stand - Sarvangasana). Dynamic resting postures may include moving between Cat and Cow (Bidalasana) or Child's Pose (Balasana) to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). There are many examples of still and quiet resting postures; Staff Pose (Dandasana), Child's Pose (Balasana), or Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama) following a particularly vigorous Vinyasa flow).

Practices are traditionally completed by a period of Savasana (Corpse Pose) to allow for rest and recovery, at least five minutes for every 60 minutes of practice.

Teaching rest while on the mat gives your students permission to practice rest while off the mat. They learn that it is not only just OK to not do but entirely advisable. They learn to simply just be more of the time.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that some itching or tingling may accompany the healing process in the affected area. It is believed that this is the body's way of communicating with the mind - letting it know that it is working! Perhaps this is the reason why so many beginning students fidget and itch while in Savasana (although I believe it is rather indicative of boredom, impatience, and "fidgeting in the mind").

However, learning to rest is an integral part of healing. An easy mantra to remember and practice with your students is: "Do less and less of everything".

Maureen Rae, RN, ERYT