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The Art of Restorative Rest

Restorative RestRestoration (noun): the action of returning something to a former owner, place or condition, eg the restoration of peace.

The concept of rest has been calling my attention in recent months, as I’ve listened to an inner need to slow down. By nature I am a doer, and prone to all the highs and lows that that entails – a sense of striving, of completion, of getting things done; and sometimes a sense of burnout, exhaustion, and feeling pulled in a thousand directions.

I considered myself relaxed and rested by having nights in with Netflix or a sneaky doze during savasana, yet I still found myself plagued by a sense of deep tiredness, of needing a break no matter how many times I skipped a night out or lost myself in the world of my phone.

A Sunday sleep in is considered the epitome of rest, and yet so many of us still live with a sense of chronic exhaustion.  I credit this partly to the fact we live in a culture that glorifies busy and burnout. Our realities are often consumed by our to-do lists, outstanding tasks and projects become plot points in the narrative of our lives, and mine has been no exception. How little time we have and how full our calendars are often seen as the traditional markers of success, while little importance is placed on time connecting with ourselves and nature.

A week or month spent doing nothing is seen of little value, and yet having taken time to do this whether through travelling or simply in my ordinary life, I know that this is not true. Without time away from our to-do lists, without learning to listen to our body, we miss the beauty that comes with being fully alive.

Arianna Huffington once wrote that “people look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills, when it is possible to retreat into yourself at any time”.  This idea of retreating into ourselves appears so foreign because we have confused the definitions of relaxation and restoration. A night spent on the couch scrolling through Facebook might revive us in the short term, but leaves us shortly after with the same sense of depletion.

Restorative rest is about taking ourselves away from the need to do and fix and complete. It’s allowing our bodies to determine our movements and actions. We sleep when our body says sleep, we wake when our body says wake. It’s about doing things that bring us joy and meaning, and not idly wasting time scrolling through the hundredth photo on Instagram or the twelfth episode on Netflix. It’s allowing our mind to be stimulated, our body to be honoured and our soul to be fed.

Each person’s sense of rest looks a little different. There were days I worked from bed, and nights I tucked myself into books and stories and epically great TV shows (ahem, suits). It meant suntanning and swimming and ignoring unread emails. It meant switching off my phone and being present in the moment, unencumbered by the fear that someone might need me.

Restorative rest meant allowing myself to slow until my body and mind felt sufficiently connected, healthy, active and embracing of life again.

Learning a path of balance has not come naturally to me, and it still requires much practice. Restorative rest, however, has become a place to return to, a staple in the toolbox of mindful practices.

In the words of John Lubbock, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”.

Where can you bring some restorative rest to your life?

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