Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Importance of REST

It seems appropriate that on a Sunday I write about the importance of rest. To me, there are three KEYS to improving your body: exercise, nutrition, and rest. Most people can be very serious about the first. They go to the gym; they lift their weights; they are impressed by how much they can bench or squat. But those same people neglect the latter two elements. I am one of them. And I'm not even impressed by my benching or squatting ability. I'll talk about those first two elements elsewhere, but I want to focus on REST.

What IS rest? That's the first question. Rest is sleep. You need sleep. Your mind and body work while you sleep. Sleep is your body's way of getting your rational self out of its way so it can do the work it needs to do. When you are awake, you are IN THE WAY. Thus, you sleep. People who lift heavily need more sleep generally than those who don't. So, get your sleep.

Rest is also a state of being. You can be in a restful state and be awake. Have you ever just felt at peace with things? In those moments, I bet you are breathing more deeply, your heart rate is slowed, and your muscles are relaxed. As a person who tends to worry and stress, I know this is a difficult state of being to achieve, but I do experience it - probably MORE frequently than people realize.

So, how do you rest? Well, the first is obvious: make time for sleep. The second is more challenging. Striving to achieve a restful wakeful state requires effort, which seems counterintuitive. Many people misunderstand what they think are "Eastern ways of thinking" that advocate such things; they believe that it just means not caring about things, not stressing, etc. The act of letting go, of resting, isn't just throwing up your arms and saying, I'm not going to care anymore. See Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art". I'll post it some other time.

I wouldn't dare try to tell someone how to experience a restful wakeful state, but I'll make some suggestions. Initially, I think you have to be deliberate with your body. Just as you control your body when you're lifting at the gym, you need to control your body when you rest. Now, there are all sorts of things happening beyond your control when you lift, just as there are all sorts of things happening beyond your control when you rest.

Here are a few (maybe helpful) suggestions for achieving a restful state:
  • be aware of your breathing; do you breathe in with your nose and out with your mouth? do you feel your lungs filling each time you take in a breath?
  • be aware of your heart rate; take your pulse; imagine your pulse slowing, relaxing - don't think too hard on this, or you'll RAISE your rate!
  • be aware of your body; how do your muscles feel? are you tense? is there a place in your body that feels tight or sore?
When I'm at the gym, I try to rest. I know this sounds odd especially if you know the sort of workouts I do. But generally I don't speak with anyone there and I focus on my workouts. When I'm just sitting or standing between sets, I'm usually in a restful state. Seems strange to say, but it's true. Why? Because I am aware of my breathing, my heart rate, and my overall body!

Ok, this is enough babble. I'm watching This Week with George S., finishing my second cup of java, and reflecting on a FINE BOWL OF OATMEAL THAT I MADE! WOO!!


Ty said...

Excellent Advice!


Ty said...

Excellent advice!