Rest is perhaps my favorite topic to advise on. I love when I meet a client, and they are doing plenty and well educated in movement and sensory relationships and I can advise on rest. There are firm rest cycles, such as after an acute injury (10 days peeps! Keep it low key at least for 10 days to 1 month after an acute injury). But most of us need to have some nuanced tools with providing rest and recovery to our hearts, nervous systems and the rest of our physical bodies, on a day by day basis.
Here I have included a list of the three most restorative physical practices for our physical bodies. But please, write and let me know your favorite rest practices!
1) Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training- activation and deep rest
What I love about HRV training, is that it allows you to be better equipped to handle both sides of the autonomic coin.
Heart Rate Variability training, or HRV training, is a process through which you learn to train your heart to beat with variability in the timing between beats.
Think of a metronome ticking with the exact same frequency. Turns out, that is not what we want for our hearts! It turns out that our hearts and autonomic nervous systems function the best when our hearts beat with subtle differences in cadence.
HRV training is essentially a form of breath practice. You learn to breathe in and breathe out at a frequency that helps you create variability between your heart beats. At first, a biofeedback device is needed to help you achieve this. I am confident that over time, as you develop a felt sense of the subtle felt sense that HRV brings, you can achieve the same results with just using the breath work.
Recall, that the heart relies on the autonomic nervous system to tell it when and how to beat.
We need to train our nervous systems to become responsive to both deep rest as well as stress.
HRV training has been used by exceptional athletes, and other high performers, to help them access improved coordination between their parasympathetic and sympathetic responses.
Neuroscientists have found that Navy SEALS who train in highly stressful situations, can adapt their sympathetic responses to harness the focus that can be achieved with sympathetic outflow.
HRV also allows athletes and mortals alike to access the deep rest response that the parasympathetic nervous system can provide.
The fluctuations in the frequency of our heart beats require specific and specialized devices called biofeedback tools- we cannot get the info from our apple watches or from taking our own heart rate. There are a couple of large companies that have been making the biofeedback tools for a while, I will let you look into that on your own if you are interested.
I also highly recommend Dr. Leah Lagos’ book Heart, Breath, Mind for more information on HRV training.
2) Compassion Practices, Growing Your Capacity for Awe
Compassion practices, connecting with a sense of joy and awe- these are seriously important practices for the times that we live in.
Behavioral research has established the connection between noticing delightful experiences, awe inspiring moments and our ability to be prosocial. Prosocial behaviors can be thought of as good citizenship from back when you were in grade school- do you feel compassion for others? Can you make decisions that are for the greater good for all involved? Can you move out of the smaller sense of self that may be amplified by fear, into your higher self?
These practices, in addition to being helpful for how we live in our communities, also make it helpful for how we can relate with our physical selves.
When we are running in our default patterns of noticing what is wrong, what is not enough, what could be better, we are moving from a place of fear, frustration or anger.
This is not how we cultivate joy or how we enjoy ourselves- and in fact, we can take a super fun movement practice and turn it into drudgery.
When we practice strengthening the neural networks that are firing when we feel awe, we can establish greater compassion for ourselves, greater joy, greater connection with community.
Compassion is like a window cleaner, that allows us to have clearer insight into ourselves, our actions and the world around us. When we cannot see clearly, making decisions about our training or health can be like looking into a fun house mirror, where we cannot see clearly.
Just this past week, I had these two examples of clients who needed some gentle guidance as they were having a disconnect moment:
Client 1 is getting around 7000 steps per week. She is not sleeping at night, and when she does wake she watches the news, which causes her to worry and when she worries she eats sweets.
Client 2 is walking 45,000 steps per week, doing strength training 3x per week, attending 1 hour of Zumba twice per week. She is not stretching or using the foam roller, but is doing breath work 5 minutes every other day.
It probably seems super clear here, but one client (1) needs to move more, to diminish fear around moving and the other client (2) needs to have more recovery tools (and possibly rest more). In actuality, Client 1 is highly resistant to moving more, while Client 2 feels like she needs to do more.
It is easy when this is presented outside of us, but actually super, super hard to have clarity around when we experience first hand, especially if we are being driven by the old sticks and carrots associated with fitness (looking a certain way, being as fit as our neighbors, keeping up with our 28 year old selves that live in our mind or photo albums).
Getting Out of Your Way- Microdosing Awe:
This is a practice from my brilliant friend Dr. Selma Lewis, PhD and she recommends we do it daily for optimal results.
1) Connect with a simple and resplendent experience you had over the past week. It could be a sunset you viewed, dappled sunlight through your favorite tree or a grasshopper (a la Mary Oliver)
2) Soak in sensations of the memory. Let yourself dive into the visual, auditory, tactile, visceral experiences of this moment. Make the memory as real as you can.
3) Amplify the experience- turn it up to 11. Allow yourself to let the experience become more real, more present. Notice felt sensations in your physical body- an ease of breath as it moves through your airway, maybe the elongation of your out breath
4) Return to the present
Once you know the practice, you can do this in real time when its safe. When you are out for a hike with your dog, or standing in line at the farmers market. Seek out moments of awe and you will find them everywhere. There was a trail I hiked near my old apartment, and one section had a tree canopy lining a small single track section. There was hardly ever anyone there. In the fall, the wind would whip the fallen oak leaves up swirling them through the tunnel under the branches they hung on in the summer. I revisit this moment again and again- it is such a source of beauty.
3) Lymphatic Positioning/ Massage
When I treat folks in the clinic and I can see they are in what seems like sympathetic overflow, I will place them into this position and get started on treatment straight away.
But you can harness this technique (and you should!) and provide this for yourself at any time!
All it takes is something to place your legs on (an ottoman, stable chair, couch when you are on the floor will do).
In order to practice, you want to practice the “dead person’s float” position. Get two comfy pillows and something to place your legs on. Place one pillow on the ground, and lie down supine (face up), putting your head on it. Place your calves on your prop (ottoman, couch, stable chair without wheels). Take your second pillow, and place it on your belly, resting your hands lightly on top of the pillow. Rest.
Breathe diaphragmatically, breathing in through your nose allowing the belly to expand. Breathe out through your nose allowing your belly to contract (without moving the spine). Gently allow your breath to become more calm, and slightly slower/ deeper.
Stay for 10-20 minutes. That’s it (!!!!) Can you believe it??
Lymphatic massage (LM) provides an unloading not only to our autonomic nervous system, but also invites healing to many other systems:
- LM allows for the unloading of tension from all of our peripheral nerves (I am calling you out pesky sciatic nerves!)
- It allows all of our joints to float in an open pack position, where the cartilage can imbibe fresh synovium (and nutrients)
- LM allows the flow of fluid from our periphery back to our heart. This helps with venous return and also with moving excess exudate out of a hot and swollen area when we have inflammation
- Down regulation of sympathetic, fight/ flight outflow
It’s basically the free, panacea of health we have all forgotten about in our busy work a day lives.
I have a pretty good workshop (called pragmatically, Lymphatic Massage) that has already been recorded that you can use to help learn more (there is a fancy self-massage piece you can learn or not) if you are interested.
Until we meet again, get good rest!
Feeling the deep rest