The more I have progressed along the path of my yoga journey, the more I have come to value rest as an essential component in my regular yoga practice. This value is constantly negotiated in relation to a range of other important factors.
I am a naturally motivated person who enjoys challenging myself. I am also aware that I live in a world in which competitiveness and the pursuit of perfection (bodily, and otherwise) are embedded in the deafening and ceaseless beat of media and contemporary culture. I am also a woman who juggles multiple roles and pursuits. Yoga as a business is one of them. This means that there is added pressure on my ‘ability’ as a yoga practitioner. I feel I must always be improving in my yoga practice and I must be inspiring to people who are beginning in yoga, or do it casually. I also know all too well just how good yoga is for health and for my weaknesses – mentally and physically – so, knowing what I know, choosing to not do yoga can be a tenuous matter.
I have learnt to plan and schedule rest from yoga into my lifestyle. I know that #yogaeverydamnday is actually not the best thing for you. One day a week should be sufficient rest, but sometimes I have three/four days on, followed by one rest day. This depends on how much instructing I am doing and/or demanding other work. I should also add that I never exercise in the first three days of my cycle – this is dedicated rest time.
I have learnt that my refuelling days away from the mat are imperative. My body is usually extra hungry on those days, and I feel it is important to meet that need with nutrient rich food. I know that its not about ‘calorie’ intake versus immediate exercise output, but rather, sustained patterns of nourishing one’s body as and when it needs it. You muscles need fuel to repair and to build. You wear down your strength if you push yourself without sufficient break. I know that if I am not meeting my body’s needs for nourishment, I crave toxic food choices, high in sugar and refined carbs.
Rest days are not just for your body – but of your mind. No matter how much you love your yoga practice, if you don’t take rest from it, you can become mentally jaded and fatigued. The practice itself can become mechanical and you can loose your anchor of mindfulness. I have learnt this lesson in the past. As soon as I recognise a mechanical and ‘ho-hum’ approach to my asanas, I take a break – do something different, change it up. If you continue to force yourself to do yoga in spite of feeling jaded, you can even create a situation of stress. I have met people who – through over-exercising and forcing their bodies to do more than is healthy – are in a knot of anxiety and strained resentment concerning their exercise routines. This misses the point of yoga altogether. Most importantly, it is toxic for you body to continually force yourself into exercise. Stress hormones are one of the biggest contributors to the build up of toxins in the body – they actively prohibit your body’s natural methods and functions of detoxification.
This point about ‘changing it up’ if you feel jaded about yoga leads me to address what I am still working on: gauging unplanned rest days. Sometimes, in spite of your careful consideration of a routine of ‘on’ and ‘off’ days, you wake up and you are just not in the groove. Sometimes the body clock overpowers the careful planning. This is where you really test your mindfulness and your ability to be soft and kind to yourself – as you may readily be for others. Ahimsa means non-violence and this is a pillar of yoga philosophy. Non-violence to others and to yourself.
Its far too idealistic to say that every time you approach your mat you must feel energised and ‘on point’ to safely continue. There are those times when you are kind of sluggish and not motivated, but really can find the energy to hit the mat with intent. These are good times to push gently. These are times where, when you finish the session, you feel so grateful that you pushed and had the self-discipline at hand. These sessions will assist in detoxification and de-stressing. The most important lesson we can learn, therefore, is that of self-knowledge, gained through mindfulness in each day, in order to best judge what is healthy for us on that particular day.