31 Days of Movement: Rest Day

Sunday has been my day to run. I ran last night, though, and my body has been telling me all week that it may be time for a rest.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about my dog. She’s probably a lot like your dog. She spends a lot of her day doing not very much. When it’s time for a walk, she goes all out, running, sniffing, squatting, leaping. Then she comes home and immediately lies down.

Every now and then, when we take Lola out for walkies, she doesn’t run and jump. She ambles slowly. This seems to us as if something is wrong. Is she injured? Not feeling well? Usually, in a day or two, she’s back to her usual self: totally up for play whenever we initiate it and totally absolutely resting all of the remaining hours. 

Humans aren’t dogs. We live a lot longer, for one thing, and we have a ton more responsibility. However, we’re both animals. Humans could do with playing more and resting more, both. What I want from my fitness, in part, is to be able to jump up and play. 

There’s a concept in fitness called active rest. This means that we are resting from our usual level of activity. For instance, a runner may go for a walk instead of a run. Some websites recommend swimming or yoga or dance as active rest activities, though all of these can be quite active. The idea behind active rest is that we keep the intensity low. 

Ruth Rootberg (such a great name) in this article describes using a lying down position used in the Alexander Technique. This position is used to allow not just the body but the nervous system to renew itself. The more intensely we move and live, the more we need to focus on the quality and quantity of our rest. 

This is December, and I’m moving all 31 days of December. It can be as little as one set of push ups; as long as I define it as exercise, it counts.

I haven’t decided yet what I’d like to do today. Whatever it is, it will be something that allows my limbs to hang and swing easily. I don’t plan on bringing my heart rate up much. There will be absolutely no intervals, no squats, nothing too deep or contractive. I’ve had a lot of that this week, and it felt great, every time. 

What my body requires today is to move freely and easily, possibly with some dance or maybe taking Lola for a short walk so we both get out in nature. I could probably use some time with my foam roller, too, and plenty of active rest laying on my back and really, deeply, intentionally resting. 

In addition to writing this blog, I also write and send an email several times a week to those who’ve signed up for my Better and Bolder list. Besides movement and exercise, I discuss interesting recent research and insights in many aspects of health and well-being. 

Today especially, the Better and Bolder post was exactly what I needed for my personal reflection. Once I got into writing it, I saw that I need emotional rest days just as I need physical rest days. These are active rest days. That means I don’t have to focus on growth or goals. I focus instead of relaxing and receiving.

This article from Experience Life explains how we can increase our awareness of the support we already receive.

The author, Dr. Rick Hansen, says, "There’s a fundamental model in the health sciences that how you feel and function is based on just three factors: your load, the personal vulnerabilities it wears upon—such as health problems, a sensitive temperament, or a history of trauma—and the resources you have.” 

Take a moment and think about your current load. Write down 10 things that you have to care for or deal with. This can be the job you love or the housework you hate or a relationship that requires extra care and attention right now.

How do you feel? What did you notice in your body as you wrote down your load?

The second part, Hansen says, is how we are uniquely vulnerable to those elements in our load. For instance, some people have high tolerance for loathing housework while others may have medical issues that make doing housework particularly taxing and draining. The thing that is no big deal to one person can be enormously challenging for someone else, so it’s not just what’s in your load. It’s your personal relationship to what’s in your load. 

Review the list of items in your load. Jot down anything that makes those items extra challenging for you. It doesn’t have to be a physical challenge. It also doesn’t have to be something you understand. You may not know why something is especially challenging to you, and you don’t need to know why. Just notice.

Finally, focus on your resources. Your resources can be personal qualities (good sense of humor, great organizer, efficient, easy-going) or other people, places, and things that support you. For instance, I’m writing this at a computer (win!) in a warm home (win!) wearing warm clothes (win!) after having eaten a delicious and healthy breakfast (win!). 

If your load has been increasing over time, so too must your resources so that you don’t get depleted and overwhelmed. Simply noticing the resources you already have can increase your senses of empowerment (you can handle this load) and your sense of being supported (you’ve got everything you need).

One of the lovely things Hansen mentions is that when we’re in problem-solving mode, we’re feeling the strain of dealing with our load. That’s important to do, and it’s also important to take a break from problem-solving for a while each day. Problem-solving (or worrying) puts a focus on what’s not right for us yet. Problem-solving, though crucial, is another part of our load. It’s something else we have to do. Giving ourselves a break from this is a way of supporting ourselves. 

I noticed this week that I really want to get lost in a novel. I wanted a day in which I had no obligations and, most importantly for me, I wanted to forget about the real world. I felt kind of bad that I wanted this break. My life is great and my load is quite manageable; so I didn’t understand my need for a break and I was bringing a negative judgement to this need.  

After reading Hansen’s article, this desire to take a day off from the real world makes more sense to me. It now seems like an excellent strategy. I moved from a negative judgement (why should I need a break?) to an invitation to explore (apparently, I need a break, which means there’s more in my load than I’m acknowledging).  

In fact, the moment I valued my need for a break, I was able to see clearly where my load has been taxing me. It’s as if I could see the entire past year in a new light. My life is still great and I have a ton of resources. I’m also experiencing change and growth, and that has taxed me. It’s really okay for me to need and take a break. 

Hansen reminds us we can receive support from nature. We can sense how we are supported by breathing air. There’s a medicine man who works at the Nob Hill co-op. When I ask him how he’s doing, he says, “Still breathing.” That sounded to me like a very low bar. Don’t we all want to feel great? Be happy? Now I understand his answer. He has everything he needs. He starts at the most basic, the most fundamental element of support for his life, which means, yes, he is doing great. 

Acknowledging the support we receive doesn’t stop us from acknowledging how heavy our load may be for us right now. We can hold both of those at the same time: wow, I have a ton of support, and, wow, here’s an area right now in which I continue to need additional support. I let myself feel both the weight of my load as well as the depth and warmth of my support. 

Then I can do whatever I need, including sometimes simply resting.