When I began going to yoga classes 24 years ago, I discovered a new way to move. Not long after that, I became pregnant with my daughter and yoga was something I continued, throughout most of my pregnancy. While it was packaged as a relaxing way to stretch, in my practice, yoga equaled movement.
In 2004, I came upon my first Ashtanga yoga class. Again, it was movements I could do, that challenged me. This was a fast-paced class and Savasana was always strongly suggested. But as I was on my lunch break and needed to get back to work on time, I usually scooted out the back door still sweaty from practice.
In 2008, my husband and I had the opportunity to join a 30-day yoga course in the Mysore tradition of yoga. We would begin the practice with Suryanamaskara A and B repeating these until we committed the movements to memory. We closed with a modified version of Padmasana, a short closing mantra, and then instructed to rest. While “taking” rest, sounded like an interesting concept to me, I would find myself getting restless as I had to rush back to work. As time passed, I learned more postures and the duration of my practice became longer. So I was elated when my teacher said I could come in earlier while she was practicing. I filled my practice with more asanas, stealing from my sleep to get to the shala well before the sun rose, and hurriedly rolling up my mat after an obligatory (too short) Savasana to get to work.
Teachers, books, videos and even social media posts have quipped that if you don’t have 10 minutes to rest, you should take an hour and I always nodded in agreement but smirked as I thought of the consequences. One of my teachers tried to teach me how to rest by suggesting that I just do Suryanamaskara A and B then take Savasana --- WHAT? No way! I’d barely work up a sweat! Another teacher suggested I stay in Savasana until I no longer felt sweaty. Novel idea, and definitely a way to keep me on my mat longer, but nothing that convinced me, so Savasana stayed short for many, many years.
Gradually, over the years my practice waned and work took priority. My personal practice had gone by the wayside because I “couldn’t find the time”. However in 2020, due to COVID, I gained back over an hour in my day as I started working from home. Rather than lose that time to sleep or other tasks, I decided to get back on my mat. I felt like a beginner all over again and couldn’t even make it through the Suryanamaskaras when I first started, but it felt wonderful moving through the asana series. According to the sutras, Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind and this pandemic was presenting us with all sorts of challenges to sift through. My breathing and movement quickly became a meditation and something I looked forward to, even craved each day. As it happens, I also had little puppies who saw me lying still in Savasana as an invitation to attack my face. However, taking rest still didn’t take priority in my practice...until I couldn’t practice anymore.
In January 2021, I scheduled a medical procedure that would force me to limit my physical activities. Knowing this, I met with my teacher who created an abbreviated practice for me, something I could do while in transition. But given my condition, I couldn't even do that. It was at this time I really thought about the concept of “taking rest.” To take rest is an action, it requires intention and it has a purpose. Our world has conditioned us to think “we can sleep when we’re dead” and that the hustle is the only way to survive. But for 6 weeks and then some, I couldn’t hustle. There were weeks I could barely keep my eyes open. As my body healed, I learned the necessity of rest. Much like breathing, no one ever teaches us how to do it but all of us can benefit from practicing both with intention.
I love my rest days now and don’t chastise myself if I take more than one in a week because I am not avoiding or being lazy, I am listening to and honoring my body. There have been days when my asanas could be considered some of the noise cluttering up my mind-field; when I used the movement of yoga to keep from calming my mind. If Pantajali says the goal is to quiet the fluctuations of the mind, then learning how to take rest is an integral part of any yoga practice.
Babetta (she/they) is a 49-year-old, cis-gender woman who resides in North Carolina with her husband and 2 dogs. She has been a student of yoga for over 20 years and looks forward to many more. Babetta is a trainer, mentor, and coach in the field of Sign Language interpreting and professional development.
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