In today’s fast-paced culture, I don’t think we can overvalue the benefits of rest.
Rest is a yin activity, and serves to enhance the qualities of nurturance, relaxation, imagination and introspection. It naturally balances the predominantly yang energy of our time, where we tend to emphasize the rational mind, logic, structure, extroversion and “getting things done”. Signs of excessive yang include restlessness, anger, insomnia, an inability to relax, addictions and a need for constant stimulation.
By setting aside time for quiet, rest and contemplation, we can balance this predominant energy, and get in touch with our creativity, our innate wisdom, our resilience and our breadth of perspective.
Here are a few simple ways:
Learn To Rest Inside Your Body.
Before we start to talk about evening routines, it’s first important to recognize how much energy you lose throughout the day through lack of presence and improper thinking habits.
For example, you may spend hours complaining about how your boss should be, rather than focusing your energy on your own behaviour and inner attitudes. You may spend years craving your next big promotion, without recognizing that this time in your life is for learning, self-development or family time. You may have wild fantasies about a beautiful man or woman, but never actually try to spend time with them in real life.
Most of us are unaware of how much energy we lose through scattered thoughts and emotions. At the end of the day, we feel frustrated, tired, depleted, unsatisfied and un-actualized in our true potentials.
Fortunately, there is the science of yoga…
Meditation and Yoga
The purpose of yoga is to yoke, or to unite body and mind with present circumstances. Instead of living in a fragmented state — where we wish we were somewhere else or living a different life — we train ourselves to cultivate neutrality about our personal preferences (e.g. going beyond likes and dislikes of the mind) and to truly meet our challenges with grace, stillness and compassion.
Regular practitioners of yoga generally need less sleep, because they have matured their capacity for present and concentration. They have learned the true art of resting within the Self, no matter the circumstances. Life lived in this way becomes very simple, and also beautifully poetic.
Your daily meditation practice is your best tool for keeping a clear and relaxed body and mind throughout the day. Meditation is more regenerating than sleep; your daily practice both reduces your need for sleep and helps you to sleep more soundly.
Pranayamas (yogic breathwork) are also a great tool, as are asanas (yoga postures), which support your embodiment at a more gross (less subtle) level.
Tune In. Often.
You cannot live well or wisely if you are constantly exhausted. By tuning into our bodies needs — and by giving ourselves permission to listen — we can find simple ways to support ourselves. Sometimes it is just a matter of giving ourselves permission to breathe, to go for a walk, to dance, to write, to take a meditation class, to postpone our social plans…
Get a Restful Evening Routine
After dinner, favour activities that are gentle and non-stimulating, such as light reading, art, journaling, simple chores and time with loved ones. Reduce or avoid stimulation before bed — this includes computers, cell phones and televisions, especially after 8 pm.
Keep your bedroom clean, uncluttered and inviting; the bedroom should be a space for rest, response and intimacy (e.g. no electronics!)
As much as possible, try to follow the ayurvedic clock, going to bed by 10 pm and rising before 6 am to align with nature’s rhythms.
Work With Diet and Herbs
Ayurveda provides recommendations to balance the sleep cycle for each dosha. This is especially important if you are dealing with a sleep disturbance, such as regular insomnia.
Regular use of caffeine, sugar and stimulants drain the nervous system and the adrenals. Occasional use is not a problem, but you can support your body better through regular use of herbs that strengthen and energize the body-mind (without depleting the nervous system). Some of my favourites include tulsi, oatstraw (warm infusion), red clover, ashwaghanda and nettle.
At bedtime, or when your nervous system needs extra care, teas made of chamomile, lavender, St. John’s Wort or passionflower are also great. You can also use herbs in a diffuser, body oil or a few drops of essential oil in your evening bath.
You will be able to rest more deeply if you are also supporting yourself through regular bodywork — massage therapy, ayurvedic treatments, acupuncture, fasciatherapy, ect. — where stress and accumulated impressions are removed from the body.
For at home treatments that you can do yourself, try massaging your feet with cold-pressed sesame oil before bed; this simple treatment relaxes the mind and the whole body for sound sleep. If you find that your mind is over-active from a busy day, you can draw the energy down from your mind by running cold water on your feet for 2-3 few minutes or through the legs-up-the wall yoga asana (Viparita Karani) for 10 minutes at bedtime.
It is no secret that being in nature is incredibly healing. A walk in the woods — or even just looking out the window — quiets the mind, boosts the immune system and stimulates a physical relaxation response. Studies have also shown that forest environments are advantageous for those experiencing chronic stress. It never ceases to amaze me how easily new, refreshing perspectives come when I spend a few hours amongst the trees. For me, it is more regenerating than any spa.
One of my personal favourite ways to rest is to go on silent retreat for a few days. It is incredible what a few days of not speaking can do to regenerate your body and mind, and to release accumulated fatigue. Silent retreats have long been used by seekers to enhance and support the process of self-realization.