The Importance of Down Time

“How wonderful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterwards.” — Spanish proverb


If you were to take out a sheet of paper and write down the things that really matter to you, what would they be? Spending time with loved ones? Enjoying the outdoors or hobbies that bring you joy? How about your health? Would you put rest on the list?

If you were to flip that paper over and write down how you actually spend your time each day, how many of your line items would match the things that really are important to you? If you’re like most people, you probably spend so much time getting stuff done, that you don’t make enough time for things you love, or for things like your health, and rest.

It seems we tend to get so caught up in being productive that we become human doings rather than human beings. How much happier—and healthier—would we be if sometimes we could give ourselves permission to take the time to just BE?

It’s not just an indulgence! A stressful, busy life out of balance leads to a lot of health problems. The body (and mind) need periods of rest between stressful situations. Not just sleep, though getting enough sleep at night and/or taking short naps is really beneficial. I’m talking about mindful, purposeful relaxation—being fully in the moment and enjoying the resting process.

Here are some of the best ways to relax fully:

  • Meditate. There are many resources on how to meditate. As an introduction: if you have trouble turning off your inner chatter, try just focusing on your breath. Nice easy deep breaths in a quiet, comfortable place. If your “monkey mind” starts chattering, don’t get upset or give up. Just identify that you are having a thought, and you will think about that thought later, but right now you’re not going to think about anything in particular except breathing in, and breathing out. Or try dropping the thought into an imaginary stream and watching it float away—you don’t have to hang on for its crazy ride!
  • Massage and reflexology. Bodywork activates the part of our nervous system that is responsible for calming the body down. It literally lowers blood pressure, promotes relaxation and feelings of wellbeing.
  • Exercise. IF it is a type of exercise that promotes mindfulness, such as yoga or Tai Chi. (Not a competitive sport or an activity that revs you up.) If you can clear your head by walking or swimming, those can be good ways to relax.
  • Breathing exercises. I learned in martial arts training that if you can control your breathing, you can control your heart rate. Taking a deep breath is not only relaxing, but it’s good for all the tissues in your body to get fresh oxygen.

This is my favorite breathing exercise: (the goal is to get as much fresh air in and get as much old air out as you comfortably can. Start with a slow count of 3, and see if you can work your way up to 5 or 6 seconds in each step. As with any mindful relaxation, find a comfortable, quiet place (although you may find that doing this exercise at your desk, in a conference room, or in a car and beyond may really help you get through some stressful situations!). 

Close your eyes if you can. Breathe in to a slow count of 3. See if you can really move your belly, and your ribs, and fill your lungs as fully as you can. Hold your breath for a slow count of three. Then let it out to at least a slow count of three. When you think you’ve exhaled all the way, see if you can push out a little more air. The more you empty your airways, the more fresh air you can take in!

I can almost guarantee you that if you find yourself breathing fast, taking shallow breaths, because you feel angry or afraid or stressed, this exercise will help you breathe more slowly and will in turn slow down your heart rate and your adrenaline rush.

  • Relaxation exercises. These exercises use breathing and guided meditation to help you visualize a restful situation. They are very effective, because your brain reacts to imaginary things the same way it reacts to real things. So you could imagine you were lying next to a peaceful body of water on a beautiful day, for example, and your brain would help you feel as good as if you were right there. 

You can research relaxation exercises that help you with techniques like “breathe out tension, breathe in relaxation.” Or imagining that a loose band is passing over your body slowly, one section at a time, and while that body section is under the band, all the muscles and tissues just relax, completely releasing all tension until you’ve focused on relaxing from head to toe.

A client recently told me about “The Happiness Frequency” on YouTube. It’s etherial music and tones and chimes that are deliberately designed to help the brain release endorphins and dopamine—the feel-good neurotransmitters. I encourage you to check it out for a soundtrack for your meditation and relaxation.

Taking some time to do nothing once in a while will help you feel refreshed so that you can have more energy to get stuff done the rest of the time. But more importantly, it will contribute to your health and wellbeing. I encourage you to put taking care of you at the top of your to-do list!

Source: The Power of Rest, “Healthy Musings” Blog, May 7, 2014

Category : Blog &Health &Personal Growth Posted on May 29, 2019

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