You Know Rest Is Essential. Here’s How to Actually Integrate It Into Your Life.

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There’s no overt correlation between restorative yoga practices and Black History Month. But maybe there should be.  I just know that as a Black woman, I’m tired.

I’m tired of watching news story after news story of people whose skin—brown like mine—caused them to be mistreated, harmed, and killed by accident and on purpose.

I’m tired of doing everything I can to create some sense of inner stability in a society where there seems to be no comfort for someone like me.

I’m tired of trying to do whatever seems necessary in order to find financial security and the consequent ease it brings to my body.

I’m tired of the expectation of toil. I have never had anything other than hard work modeled for me—hard work in a playing field where the right to security, comfort, and rest have never been level.

I’m tired.

The Connection Between Rest and Mental Health

Experts have long understood the correlation between rest and mental health. When we rest, the parasympathetic nervous system engages and allows for more effective digestion, healing, and repair. When we don’t rest, we see and feel the effects.

These effects represent disproportionate challenges for Black women.  “African American women experience stress and health disadvantages because of the interaction and multiplicative effects of race, gender, class, and age,” according to a study published in Advances in Nursing Science.

Black women like me are overworked and underpaid. We’re likely to be sicker, and die earlier, as a result, yet our doctors don’t believe us when we say we aren’t well. Still, we keep pushing.

In Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma, Dr. Gail Parker discusses “Sojourner’s Syndrome,”  a kind of high-effort coping in the face of stress that outwardly seems effortless but hides our internal struggle. She also discusses John Henryism, which is literally working yourself to death. It’s an adaptive behavior we use in an attempt to control our circumstance through superhuman performance.

Parker suggests that rest can help us shift away from those unhealthy coping mechanisms. Rest also helps us alleviate some of the suffering that results from racial wounding, the harm we all suffer when we witness injustice happen.

Remembering Wellness

While leading a recent Restorative Yoga teacher training, it occurred to me that despite all the preaching I do about rest, specifically the quieter practices of self-inquiry and deep listening, I never truly seek out rest unless I’m on the mat. I’m too busy doing. I haven’t been living into the full potential of rest.

Considering countless options all day—what projects should get crossed off the list and how to best enact them—can lead to a sense of overwhelm, especially in an already anxious and/or overworked body. I was reminded that it’s time to remember wellness. To remember to put down the worries and coping mechanisms for a while and come back to that sense of calm, surrender, and being held. To remember that your ancestors outnumber your fears, and that those beloveds are guiding you. To remember to lean into the sanctuary of your practice space, be it a sofa, yoga mat, or outdoors. To remember where you are and to feel the earth beneath you.

Remembering wellness is to know that you are in a space of choice, right now. And that choice can be rest. That choice can be doing less.

The Art of Doing Less

There is an art to doing less. It’s not about doing nothing all the time. It’s not malaise. It’s not even about being more rested in order to be more productive. It’s about cultivating an understanding that we’re more capable of deep human connection and being in our authenticity when we are rested.

So I edited my life down to the essentials. This looked like spending quality time with a small group of high-quality friends, whether running errands together or sitting outside having lunch. I increased the time I spent with family by setting a firm weekly commitment to do something with them. I decided to work solely from home to reduce my time in traffic.

Whereas I used to practice vinyasa yoga styles five days a week, and Yin and Restorative only twice, I increased the more restful practices to five days a week while adding in a vinyasa class or two. I started to ensure that I practice more than I teach, even when that means adding a midday Savasana (which it usually does).

Every day, I consciously spend time outside. If it’s raining, I sit under the patio and enjoy the blessing. If it’s hot and humid, as it often is where I live, I walk barefoot in the grass, taking time to let the sun caress my cheeks.

When I decided to carry just enough in life–no more, no less—I lost a lot of friends whose lifestyles were no longer in alignment with mine. I lost clients who didn’t respect my boundaries. I lost the connection of teaching at a studio, although I gained an entire world through teaching online. And I’ve gained so much time.

To the casual observer, my life may look very small. But doing less has given me access to more—of myself, my breath, my presence, and my peace. I effectively started to make space to settle down so that I could listen to my spirit.

How To Actually Do Less

Because the systemic challenges that oppress me don’t go away, I require a continual regrounding into these rest practices. It’s a remembering that I can rest, a practice of receiving information, processing it, and drawing on my adaptive behaviors so that I can continue to rest.

Sometimes it’s challenging to get to—or stay at—a place where we can just stop. If necessary, build the time into your schedule. Here are the practices I recommend to help you embrace a quieter, more intentional existence steeped in the beauty of the radical present.

Nature Meditation

I was introduced to nature meditation by Kripalu director and Rewilding author Micah Mortali. He describes the practice as leaving your eyes open and letting them fall to the first thing that truly catches your attention. Follow that object’s every move until something else catches your attention. Repeat until you’ve taken in the beauty of your surroundings for anywhere from 5 – 25 minutes. Notice the community that is available to you in trees and creatures and even precipitation.

Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga practice allows me to lean into remembered wellness—a resource that we can come back to whenever we’re feeling overwhelmed.  But you don’t need the experience of an entire class to benefit from Restorative Yoga. Perhaps find the most comfortable posture you can manage in that moment and stay in it  for 15 minutes.  Explore how that can help quiet your mind and spirit.

Yoga Nidra

I am a believer in finding rest without having to be asleep. Yoga Nidra is a highly effective meditative practice that takes you to a state of deep rest between sleep and wakefulness. Yoga Nidra is not meant to send you into slumber, but it will replenish your energy and leave you rested in as little as 30 minutes. It will also create space so you can listen to the priorities of your heart. Check out this Full Moon Yoga Nidra that supports manifestation and letting go.

About Our Contributor

Tamika Caston-Miller, E-RYT 500, is the director of Ashé Yoga, where she curates yoga experiences and trainings in service of collective healing and community repair. Having begun her yoga journey in 2001 with a home practice, she now holds advanced certifications and training in Trauma-Informed Yoga, Somatics, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, and Yoga Nidra. Tamika’s journey has been informed by chronic pain and injuries, social justice for QTBIPOC communities, the battle between shame and compassion and quest for ancestral healing, and the love for the practice and philosophy of yoga.

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