A Restorative Reset
Although rest is an integral part of our body’s rhythm, many of us have a complicated relationship to rest. That’s because our culture tends to condition us to believe that our self-worth is based on productivity. You might feel guilty for resting or believe that it is selfish to take time out. You might fear that if you slow down, you will miss an opportunity. Maybe you fear that you will lose momentum or that you will become stagnant. Perhaps you have received messages that you’re lazy if you’re not working hard or being productive. These ingrained messages can cause you to neglect your health or believe that “hard work” is what brings happiness. Sadly, this can lead you to feel disconnected from your deeper self, and you might question the point of all this hard work.
Over time, an addiction to busyness can also lead to burnout, which can affect your endocrine system functioning and overall physical health. Cultivating a nourishing relationship to rest takes consistency and practice. Paradoxically, when you do embrace the need for rest, you tend to be more focused and attentive during the day, which can ultimately allow you to be more productive.
In order to rest into a place of deep stillness, you must feel safe enough to let go of your defenses, which will allow you to access your parasympathetic nervous system’s relaxation response. Reclaiming a healthy relationship to stillness can take time.
Nourish your Nervous System
Our yoga practice can become essential any time of year to help us maintain balance and stay realistic about what we can actually accomplish. The softer side of yoga invites you into restorative shapes that allow you to rest into stillness to support your parasympathetic nervous system.
A sense of safety is always rooted in choice, and resting in stillness can never be forced. Just as you may need to build up tolerance to engage in strength training or endurance exercises, you may also need to build up a tolerance for restful states. As you work to build this tolerance, you might find that when your body becomes still that your mind speeds up. Or you might feel restless or notice the urge to fidget. Or you might feel collapsed or immobilized.
Remember that you can move your body freely as needed and that you can turn toward cues that help you recognize that you are safe now. Once you recognize that you are safe, you can practice learning to let go of your vigilance and soften into stillness.
Yin and Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga focuses on longer holds in restful poses. You might hold a pose for five minutes while allowing yourself to soften into the stillness of the shape. Often, these poses are supported through the use of bolsters, blankets, and blocks.
One form of restorative yoga is called yin yoga, which integrates the Taoist understanding that all of nature carries polarities of yin and yang. Yang represents all that is active, moving, and changing. Yang yoga practices emphasize moving and strengthening the muscles of your body. On the other hand, yin represents that which is stable and unmoving. A yin practice can be thought of as a complement to any active or strengthening practice; it is the soft side of yoga.
Yin postures focus on your ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue. Since the capacity to stretch the tendons and ligaments is limited compared to the muscles, the joints benefit from longer holds in stillness, which creates healthy stress in these tissues of your body. This is facilitated by engaging in shapes that intelligently, and safely, compress the joints of your hips and lower back by using the weight of your own body in hip-opening, twisting, and forward-folding positions.
At the end of the post, you can explore a short guided restorative practice video to guide you to find “Zen at the wall.”
Ruled by Rhythm
Our bodies are ruled by rhythm. The rhythmic pulse of your heartbeat and the cyclical nature of your circadian rhythm are two clear examples. Your circadian rhythm is a twenty-four-hour cycle that is not only responsible for your sleep patterns but also helps regulate your hormones, body temperature, hunger cycles, and digestion.
When your circadian rhythm gets offset by jet lag—or by any other type of significant disruption to your schedule—it can impact both your sleep and your digestion. Our bodies appreciate when we go to sleep, wake up, and eat with relative predictability. When we engage in restorative practices and meditation with regularity, our bodies become accustomed to these rhythms as well.
Yoga Nidra—Yogic Sleep
Yoga nidra involves resting in corpse pose while engaging in a series of guided body-awareness scans. Yoga nidra typically lasts between thirty and forty minutes, but if have a trauma history, it can be beneficial to begin with a shorter, ten-minute practice of stillness while you focus your awareness on your breath and bodily sensations.
As needed, you can also adapt your practice to reduce the likelihood of triggering PTSD symptoms by choosing to sit up or keep your eyes open. You can choose to move your body or end the practice at any time. If you would like to try this for yourself, the second video below which offers you an opportunity to explore a trauma-sensitive version of yoga nidra for yourself:
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Arielle Schwartz, PhD, is a psychologist, internationally sought-out teacher, yoga instructor, and leading voice in the healing of PTSD and complex trauma. She is the author of five books, including The Complex PTSD Workbook, EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology, and The Post Traumatic Growth Guidebook.
Dr. Schwartz is an accomplished teacher who guides therapists in the application of EMDR, somatic psychology, parts work therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of trauma and complex PTSD. She guides you through a personal journey of healing in her Sounds True audio program, Trauma Recovery.
She has a depth of understanding, passion, kindness, compassion, joy, and a succinct way of speaking about very complex topics. She is the founder of the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy in Boulder, Colorado where she maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy, supervision, and consultation. Dr. Schwartz believes that that the journey of trauma recovery is an awakening of the spiritual heart.
- The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Althea press, 2016)
- EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology: Interventions to Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment (Norton, 2018).
- The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook: Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience, and Awaken your Potential (Pesi Publications, 2020)
- A Practical Guide to Complex PTSD: Compassionate Strategies for Childhood Trauma (Rockridge Press, 2020)
- The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual: An Integrative Mind-Body Approach to Trauma Recovery (Pesi Publications, 2021)
- Trauma Recovery: A Mind-Body Approach to Becoming Whole (Sounds True, 2021)