The Power of Rest
Why rest is an essential part of balanced living: a yogic perspective. By Madeleine Arena
We live in a society that values productivity, efficiency and diligence. When talking to people you haven’t seen in a while, ‘busy’ is a very common response to the question ‘how are you’ — almost to the point that it sometimes feels like answering anything else would be wrong, lazy, or somehow prove you are lacking. While exertion and activity are of course part of a balanced life, we mustn’t underestimate the power and necessity of rest.
In yoga philosophy, there are three energetic forces we believe affect both the universe and our lives, which we call the ‘Gunas’: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. You can look at the Gunas from various perspectives, but here we will explore them as the basic way we embody and work with our energy. Rajas is action; it’s the turning, kinetic energy that is always in motion.
Tamas is stillness, or the lack of movement; it’s energy that has the potential to start moving. Sattva is simply the balance between Rajas and Tamas, which is what we strive for. What I love about this philosophical idea is that it makes blatantly obvious the power of rest. It’s quite literally an essential part of the triangle, and being in balance.
Action and effort (Rajas) cannot exist without their counterpart of potential energy and stillness (Tamas), and both are absolutely necessary for balance (Sattva).
Not only do the Gunas explain the importance of balancing rest and effort, but they even show us how we can do that – they follow the beautifully simple concept of ‘like increases like’.
If you’re feeling highly strung, anxious and full of nervous energy, you will want to avoid practices or activities that will further increase your energy, and rather engage in a more calming, Tamasic activity that will help bring you back into a Sattvic state. Conversely, if you are feeling sluggish and lazy, engaging in a more energising, Rajistic practice or activity could help bring your energy back into balance.
As always, awareness is an essential tool to analyse where your energy is at and to determine what you need most at this present moment to try and come back into a balanced state of being.
This is not to say that every time you feel tired you should do something that will bring your energy levels up – that’s a misunderstanding. It's about practicing mindful reflection and self-awareness: if you really think about your inner state in those moments of tiredness and overwhelm, notice what it was that put you there in the first place – probably not a restful day in bed, right? When we are tired, we have over engaged in Rajistic work and motion, and need to balance out with stillness and rest, creating new potential energy to be used in the future – Tamas.
Whether you relate to the terms of Rajas and Tamas or not, it’s unfair to expect yourself to be active and engaged all the time – your energy, inspiration and overall capacity need to feed off of something. Just as much as work, joy and play, rest and relaxation are absolutely necessary to live a balanced life.
Madeleine Arena is a yoga teacher and multi-passionate creative who believes in the power of cultivating inner peace through the practices of yoga. Visit: madeleineluisearena.com or connect via Instagram @madeleineluisearena