Fatigue and stress wreck havoc on the immune system. Whenever I get sick, it’s usually because work and worry have depleted my emotional, mental, and physical reserves. Rest is essential to our well-being. Taking breaks, slowing down, and sleeping well allow the body to do what it does best, which is defend and repair itself. Without the energy it needs to function, our immune system simply can’t keep up.
Incorporating rest into our busy lives can be quite challenging, but doing so trains our bodies and minds to relax when the world around us is moving very fast. I’m a big fan of personal practices that restore my sense of self. Carving out time for reflection, designing my space, and being creative, even for brief periods of time, nourish me physically and spiritually. Here are a few ideas for replenishing throughout the day, and I hope they inspire others.
1. Mindful Meals
I worked in food service for several years, and due to the demands of my job, I often ate standing up, while working, and at erratic times. My health suffered, particularly my digestion. If we eat on the go our digestive system doesn’t have the energy it needs to process our food and absorb nutrients because our body is busy doing something else. Without proper nourishment from our food our immune system doesn’t have the fuel it needs to fight illness.
Preparing and enjoying wholesome food is a method of self-healing. Mindfulness is practicing full awareness in the present moment, without reaction or judgement. Sitting at a table, enjoying the taste of our food, noticing the colors on our plates, chewing slowly, and pausing in between bites is a mindful practice that supports the body’s life-giving functions. Start the day with a slow breakfast. Set the table, remove clutter and light a candle. Whatever foods you have available, prepare them with care. Eat slowly and patiently, and sit for a while after you’ve finished. Doing so signals your body to focus on processing nutrients into energy.
2. Observing Nature
Walking is wonderful exercise and can be quite meditative if practiced with full awareness. Due to the coronavirus threat, walking outside may not feel safe right now, especially if you live in a crowded place. If that’s the case, there are other ways to slow down and notice your surroundings.
Observing our environment focuses the mind on the present moment, rather than our thoughts, which often exist in the past or future. When the mind slows down the body can rest. Spend a few minutes by an open window, on your front stoop, or in your backyard. Walk barefoot through the grass or sit with your eyes closed to soak up the sun. Notice the various sights and sounds, whether it’s lawn mowers or children playing, traffic noise or bird songs. If you see something beautiful, take time to delight in that experience. Slow down your movements or sit still, and disregard thoughts that pull you from the present moment.
3. Evening Rituals
To me sleep is a sacred time of renewal in order to greet the new day ahead with fresh eyes and a vibrant spirit. It’s the body’s optimal time to repair. A quick internet search will yield numerous articles linking the blue light emitted from digital screens to poor sleep. News and other information absorbed prior to bed can be over-stimulating and agitating. Establish a cut-off for screen time. Make yourself a calming cup of tea or soothing golden milk, and sit for a few moments to enjoy it. If you have time, silently meditate in a comfortable position. While lying in bed place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart. Take long, full breaths, feeling your chest and abdomen rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Meditation and mindful breathing activate our parasympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for rest and renewal.
Rest is a form of nourishment. It’s essential to our health and will benefit us in even small doses. Deep sleep and mindful moments replenish our energy reserves so we don’t run out of what the body needs to stay well. Times of relaxation and quiet awareness are opportunities to learn about ourselves and relate to our bodies, which can foster trust in their resiliency, wholeness, and innate capacity to heal.
Claire Papell is a writer and yoga teacher (RYT-500) committed to revealing and honoring the hard truths of being human. Her yoga education included extensive study of the rich tradition of bhakti-yoga – the yoga of devotional service. Through the reading of sacred texts, yogic philosophy and kirtan, she developed a deep and persistent wonderment about Spirit.
Claire believes the yoga tradition offers powerful tools for healing. She draws from personal experiences and her spiritual contemplations to present unique perspectives on grief, loss, and trauma. Through vivid language and a poetic voice, she hopes to connect closely to her readers. When leading a yoga class, Claire relates to her students with similar intention. Her personal yoga practice and teaching style emphasize thoughtful sequencing, steady pacing and unwavering emphasis on the breath. She designs each class to reveal what she values most about yoga, which is its remarkable ability to stretch our hearts – wonder-drenched and mystical places – so pain and joy, gratitude and grief can all exist, side by side.