I often say that rest is the forgotten piece of the longevity puzzle. It benefits us physically, mentally and cognitively. But compared to many of the Age-Well protocols we write about here, there’s very little research on it. Possibly because it’s so difficult to quantify. How do you put ‘taking time to look out of the window’ or ‘having a bit of quiet time for myself’ into an algorithm and assess it?
There are many types of rest, of course. In her 2017 book, Sacred Rest, Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith describes seven different varieties we should aim to incorporate into our lives:
Reading this, I’m sure there are some areas that you feel need more focus than others. If you’d like more guidance, Dr Dalton-Smith has a ‘rest quiz’ on her website. I found some of the questions surprisingly intrusive for an online quiz, but gleaned that mental rest is where I fall short – something to work on.
WHY WE DON'T PRIORITISE REST
Where I find I, and many of my health coaching clients, struggle with rest is the overriding sense that we need to be ‘on’ all the time: there’s always another ‘to-do’ to be done. Rest comes at the end of a long list of tasks. We’re simply not very good at doing nothing. Instead, we seem to excel at linking our self-worth to our busyness, meaning that rest isn’t a priority. Other countries and cultures seem to be better at this – there’s a great article in the Guardian here about niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing. Essentially, it boils down to letting go of any expectation of an outcome from whatever we’re doing.
In my book, The Power Decade, I write about the concept of Sustainable Nurturing: committing to look after ourselves as an act of self-respect. And I love the concept of active relaxation, a term that refers to anything that engages our minds but allow body and brain to feel relaxed. That could be yoga, walking, meditation and music. Or something that uses our hands like sewing, knitting, crafting, gardening, cooking – even cleaning!
American psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Kelly Lambert has described how using our hands activates our brain’s ‘effort-driven reward circuit’, particularly when these actions produce a tangible result, like a new jumper, a delicious meal or a tidy kitchen. Dr Lambert proposes that using our hands purposefully stimulates the accumbens-striatal-cortical network in the brain to produce the ‘feel-good’ hormone, dopamine. What’s your favourite way to ‘actively relax’? Let me know in the comments.
Annabel and I are both big fans of Yoga Nidra, a deeply relaxing form of ‘conscious sleeping’, also know – more prosaically – as non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR. The practice has also been shown to raise dopamine levels, and significantly improve cognitive performance tasks. Have a search online for a session if you fancy giving it a go. We talked about how Nidra helped Annabel to function when she was suffering insomnia during the online launch for Sleepless last week. If you missed that live webinar, you can catch up with the recording here. And see below for how you can join me and Nidra teacher Kanan Thakerar for a live session in London next month.