The power of rest
Real self-love is unconditional rest. By Hannah Campbell
Much to my relief, last week I spent five days resting in bed with the flu. It might seem strange to you that I write of the relief I experienced. It seems crazy to me that we live in a society whereby the only time we allow ourselves to rest fully, is when we are sick. Even then, the majority of us are resting in sheets laced with guilt and frustration.
One of my biggest roles I play in my work as a yoga teacher is to be a passionate advocate for rest and self-care. Yet still, even as I preach it, there are times when I myself forget.
In emerging from my duvet cocoon, I find myself contemplating what it is to rest again. And, further to that, what it is to rest fully without the background nagging of a to-do list.
In yoga, there is a condition called Nara. The Sanskrit word for 'man' is actually Nara (Nahri for woman). Most simply, it describes the 'human condition'. The tendency for humans to get so wrapped up in being humans that they forget who they really are (divine beings!).
"But what really brings humanity together? Shared collective experience and expressions
We walk around thinking we are Tom, Dick or Sally with this body and this mind and this role to play and this way to show up in the world. The vast majority of us cling so heavily to who we think we are (Ahamkara, or the ego) rather than who we truly are. ("We are mellow human beings, not human doings." as my teacher, Micheal King, would say.) In identifying with the ego, we have this mentality that we have to survive at all costs. Dr Ananda says that it is in this identification with the ego that stress is born.
In my experience, and my profession, I see a lot of people who have this perceived idea of what it means to survive. For example, clinging to the need to be 'successful' at work or earn lots of money and 'upgrade' in life to keep up with the Joneses. Society tells us that this is what will make us happy. People are walking around genuinely feeling unsafe to stop spinning all the plates.
But what really brings humanity together? Shared collective experience and expressions of love! It's not the better house or the bling that 'buys' you friends, it is the currency of love, the purest currency of all. Likewise, it is not the latest iPhone model that brings you happiness, it is love.
And what better way to show your internally frazzled 'human doing' a little love? Dropping those spinning plates, even if just for a moment, and connecting to something bigger than who you think you are supposed to be.
Resting in stillness
It is really only in pausing that we get to glimpse at the true essence of who we are. We can lay down all our to-do lists, all our striving, all our masks and rest in the eternal ocean of being-ness. We feel whole and we feel empty all at once and there is nothing greater than that feeling. "The fullness of emptiness," as Indu Arora describes it. It is only in stillness that we are able to tap into the real energy that runs through each and every one of us, an energy that is so boundless, so omnipotent, yet at the same time, so familiar.
At first it can be daunting. Resting in stillness can bring up resistance. Pausing can be confronting. It can feel a little bit like a bottle of champagne, once you open the lid, all the bubbles rise to the surface. But, just like with champagne, after a moment, the fizz subsides and what's left is liquid gold.
For many of us, pausing requires permission. A safe container to rest. With proper guidance, a community of support and a gentle introduction to smaller nuggets of pausing in your day, rest can become a space of solace and relief. In deeper states of rest, there really is a feeling of nothing else being required of you. There is nothing you have to do. There is nothing you need to do in order to be enough. You are already enough.
There is so much power in rest. We just need to re-learn to trust that space. We need to learn to prioritise 'no strings attached', just for the sake of rest.
I grew up in a household where my parents had their intention in the right place. I was told to slow down and rest, however, the behaviour that was modelled was contrary to this. I would hear the two of them say to one another 'we are wasting the day' if they slept in late. I would watch them get up and down to do 'one last thing' on an evening. There was little example of proper, intentional rest in my childhood home.
Many of us never had role models for rest. We feel genuine fear in our insides if our to-do lists haven't been ticked off.
Start with the breath
How do we shift from the narrative we currently have around rest and settle into a purer form of rest that is untethered from the stories we hold?
For me, and for pretty much all of my clients, the breath is the first point of call. Through the breath, we can bring to regulate the nervous system. The breath is the gateway to deeper meditative states until finally, there is a letting go and our tension melts away.
I appreciate that practices like meditation and breathwork are hard to come by in a busy home. But practice does not need to be formal like we think it does. Some of the most powerful moments of rest come in smaller pockets, in the form of transition.
It is those moments in between that are the most poignant. It is in those moments we have the opportunity to feel. We get a resonance of what has just happened that we can relish and rest in that wave, that joy, that stillness.
I often feel this when surfing. Those moments between the waves are the ones I enjoy most. The echo of the wave is still within you. For some, this might come in Kirtan, the moments between the music where there is a pause to relish in it all. For others, a lull in the conversation, a silence between sounds, which feels like a soft exhale.
Yoga tells us that there are actually seven layers of silence (or Mauna). Through yoga practice we can begin to access some of these layers. My teacher Indu Arora says that through yoga nidra (yogic sleep), we can begin to drop into the deepest layers of this silence. It's these deeper layers of silence that connect you to a place beyond space, time, thought and feeling.
I like to think of alignment with our need for rest on a sliding spectrum of nourishment. We become more aware of needing to pause, we pause, and the dot slides towards alignment, we forget in another moment and it slides back towards malalignment.
Having a treasure box of rest practices really is a game-changer for the modern plate-spinning human. You can even have a physical box and pot luck anytime you feel yourself sliding down the scale of 'being nourished'. These treasures can be anything from lighting a candle to running a bath, taking some mindful breaths, booking a retreat day or laying down for a blissful yoga nidra.
Sometimes we have to set up what I call 'compassionate time boundaries' in order to weave rest into our modern lives, but believe me it's worth it. It is comforting to remember that so often, out of nothingness comes much greatness. In rest, we rediscover 'being'. As Octavia Raheem says: "In rest, there lies so much power."
It is our birthright to be a human 'being' – we owe it to ourselves to make space for that. Rest is not a luxury, rest is essential to our very existence.
Hannah Campbell is a qualified yoga, meditation and Pilates teacher and sports therapist and the founder of Composure Active. Visit: composureactive.co.uk