Learning How to Rest

Oh, give me a break.

No, really, give me a break.

I’ve realized that I have NO IDEA how to rest. I picked up this month’s issue of Yoga Journal, which happens to be about resting. In this issue, one of the authors suggested that many of us have two states – tense and asleep. They argue that we never really rest. My guess is that there are a lot of us academics who can relate.

Ever try to sit around and really just take it easy? What happens?

  1. Maybe I have to use the bathroom.
  2. OK, now I have to get a tissue.
  3. The remote is over there.
  4. My iPad needs charging.
  5. I should probably get off Facebook.
  6. Crap, I should answer that email.
  7. And that one.
  8. It’s just a few papers. I’ll feel better if I get them done.
  9. I need a coffee.
  10. I should probably get off Facebook.
  11. Oh! Puppy videos!
  12. Crap, I should answer that email….

Resting is one of the harder things we are asked to do. Even when we are sitting in meetings and not really moving, we aren’t resting. We’re just not productive. When we are at our computers at work or at home, we’re concentrating on some sort of task. Our brains are engaged, and if you really stop to look at yourself, I bet you’ll see that your muscles are super tense.

Did you ever leave a meeting or a really intense writing or grading session and have no idea why you were sore and drained? It was probably because your muscles were in an isometric contraction most of the time. You were working way harder than you thought you were!

We didn’t get where we are by being good at resting, right? I get the impression among my colleagues that they think rest and relaxation and health behavior are woo-woo things. I’ll start spouting off about yoga and getting in touch with your inner child or something.

Plot Twist: Waldo Finds Himself.
No new-agery here! Nothing woo-woo or weird about it – sometimes you need to disengage.

Being able to rest and relax, especially when things get really stressful and tense, might be the key to our longevity in academia. Remember that book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? There might be a lot of truth in that! Small changes can have big effects.

At the last meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, I took a workshop in Behavioral Relaxation Training. Created by Roger Poppen in the late 1980s, it is a set of 10 simple behaviors that signal that the body is relaxed and the autonomic nervous system has taken over. I tried to find a video of BRT, but can’t find any that show the technique as I was taught it.

Here is another nice article about ways to incorporate small pauses into your day. In my travels and in my research, I’ve learned a few things about resting:

  • It doesn’t have to be mystical or yogic or anything like that.
  • A short amount of time here and there throughout the day is enough for most people, but your mileage may vary.
  • Anything that resets your brain and body can be considered rest. For some, it’s sitting on the couch with a good book. For others, it’s a nice long run. Today, my rest came in the form of a spin class. I totally got lost in the playlist and hope I didn’t start singing along (sorry not sorry if I did).
  • Rest needs to be something that causes your muscles to relax and give your brain that “ahhh…” – if you don’t get that, it isn’t rest.
  • It shouldn’t be something you feel like you’re going to pay for later (e.g., alcohol, binge eating)
  • If you’re walking around fuming about something that happened earlier or prepping for something you’re dreading, sorry, it isn’t rest. Even if you are in yoga or meditating.

Share your ideas for how you rest! Can’t wait to hear the ways you detach and unwind from your busy lives.

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