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Yoga for All Life's Seasons: learning to rest

by Penny Horner

“Activity and rest are two vital aspects of life. To find a balance in them is a skill in itself. Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have.” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Celebrating Silence: Excerpts from Five Years of Weekly Knowledge 1995-2000. 

Finding that balance between activity and rest is difficult in today’s world where we feel a need to be ‘doing something’ at all times. I looked around the carriage on a train recently as we sped alongside the beautiful Northumberland coastline. And it seemed everyone, including me, was using a phone or laptop, letting the scenery pass away unnoticed in our need to be occupied. It has become normal to speak of ourselves as being stressed. This is reflected by mental health statistics consistently showing increases in stress levels. (A 2018 UK survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that in the past year, 74% of people felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. Gallup’s World Emotions report showed record highs of stress worldwide in 2019). As yogis we know that practicing yoga is helpful and indeed there is now a considerable body of research showing yoga to be effective in reducing stress levels. I often feel completely refreshed and elated after yoga practice. The practice has helped me to move ‘out of my head’ into my body and breath, As a teacher, it is incredibly rewarding to see people leaving a yoga class looking more relaxed and calm than when they arrived. But sometimes, even as yogis, we need to learn how to rest more, to be softer and kinder to ourselves. To pay more attention to our bodies and emotions. On the yoga mat, we might naturally want to progress physically, to improve, to move to the next posture, the next level. And sadly (and stressfully) to compare ourselves with others. Resting in savasana at the end of a yoga class is delicious and nourishing. But only if we engage fully with it… I admit, I have often found myself planning a busy day ahead when in savasana – which is not helpful at all! My own perspective on the need to rest has changed after trainings with Uma Dinsmore Tuli in Well Woman yoga therapy and in Yoga Nidra. Uma begins all her training sessions with a nurturing yoga nidra. She talks about rest as a ‘radical act’ to counteract the relentless demands of modern life. “We talk about sustainable energy use in buildings, but what about having respect for human energy systems – the energy of life itself – and working out sustainable ways to manage our resources?” ~ Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (The Future is Beautiful podcast December 2019) Such wise words. 

I personally find it really helpful to think from the perspective of energy resources. Those resources might be particularly stretched at certain times in our lives when we need to direct our energies in specific ways. When we need more rest to compensate. For women, the cycles and life changes we experience need respect when our energies are necessarily diverted elsewhere. Society might want us to be superwomen but lack of rest can be toxic and cause us more problems. Taking it a bit easier during menstruation, taking more rest when planning pregnancy (stress can inhibit conception and the inability to conceive inevitably causes more stress forming a vicious circle). Changing our activities and yoga practice in pregnancy, postnatally and in the peri menopause. And just being aware when we have had a busy time in juggling work and home or family responsibilities that we need to recharge our own batteries. So making the most of that savasana, enjoying a gentler practice sometimes, seeking out yoga nidra, and more restorative and specialist yoga (e.g. pregnancy yoga). And off the yoga mat, sometimes just being, not doing. Enjoying the view. 

Penny teaches Yoga Gently at Meadowlark, a gentle practice including a yoga nidra and will be running workshops for women on ‘Looking after the Pelvic Floor’ and ‘Fertility Yoga’ later in 2020. 

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