What should you do to put your body to good use? Most people hve no idea. A craftsman who borrows some tools will try to make the best possible use of them while they are available. Your body, too, is actually on loan to you for athe time being, for the brief period left before it is taken back fromyou by death. Had you better not use it to practice the dharma while you can? – Dilgo Khyentse, “The Day After You Die”
The body works in conjunction with the mind and the spirit to give us a full range of experience that we call Life. But the body needs a certain kind of attention—and loving-kindness–in order to give us access to its deep wisdom. More so than the mind and the spirit, the body is designed to heal the many assaults it receives just from being out in the world. (I won’t say anything about the assaults we inflict on ourselves. You go there if you want.) But in order for healing to take place, the body requires four things: nutrition, hydration, rest, and stillness. Most of us get the importance of food and water. But even a lot of smart people ignore the importance of rest and stillness.
In yoga, we actually practice resting. It’s called child’s pose. From downward dog, we come down to our knees, then pull the hips back to our heels and stretch the arms out in front of us. If we widen the knees, there’s a nice little space to fit the torso into, and with arms outstretched, the spine can really lengthen. The forehead rests on the mat, and we’re in our own little dark cocoon: at ease, free from stimulation of the world, able to note the movements of thoughts and feelings as they swirl through our being.
We don’t sleep in child’s pose; we just rest. And in the course of a yoga practice, we rest every single time we need to. When we feel fatigued or stressed by a pose, we don’t postpone the rest saying, “Later tonight, my body, I will let you release the tension and pain you’re feeling.” We give the body what it needs when it needs it: right now! As often as you need to in yoga, you can stop and rest. What an incredible gift this is.
And yet, how incredibly hard it is for some of us. Habituated as we are to pushing through difficulty, to enduring stress, to achieving the goal, we push on through our yoga practice, even in the face of pain and fatigue. This is not good.
We do this in our lives, too. We work hard, we take care of people, we chase the end of our to-do list maniacally. Even when our bodies reveal a need for rest–or even a cessation of movement–we say, “Later, my body, I will let you rest. At bedtime you can sleep.”
But we do ourselves such a disservice to postpone rest because there is research that shows we can never catch up. The damage is done and begins to accrue. We develop chronic pain, or we suffer from fatigue; we develop problems with sleeping and reduced efficiency in our work. We become sluggish and lose focus. Sound familiar?
But short moments of rest throughout the day can actually improve productivity in our living and in our art. A few deep breaths. A brief walk barefoot in the back yard. A short power nap. Oh yeah, I used to get jazzed about grabbing a cup of coffee in the afternoon, and now I get totally jazzed about a power nap. It’s come down to this!
And then there’s stillness, the fourth power source we have access to. Eat, drink, sleep: No one will deny their importance to vibrant living. But in our culture, stillness is a remote dream for most of us. How often do you intentionally cultivate stillness? Not only for maintaining health in the body, but for creating an opening for spirit to rise, giving us access to the wisdom of the body. A moment of stillness quells the chattering mind and soothes the yearning heart. A moment of stillness allows the body and the mind to release all contraction. Space opens up in the body; the assault of thought retreats for bit; and sometimes, contentment rises up.
It seems so obvious and so rational, doesn’t it? Eat well, drink plenty of water, rest regularly, and every so often, get still. Is this hard to do? I don’t think so. Unless you make it so.