WHY REST IS A CRUCIAL PART OF GROWTH
by Mauro Quattrociocchi
I, like many, practice yoga on a fairly regular basis. For me fairly regular means at least 6 classes a week most times more than that. I feel guilty if I miss a day. Recently I took part in a yoga challenge at my home studio and completed 40 classes in 30 continuous days. While that may seem like a lot to some, it seemed fairly average to me. When it was all said and done, my body was telling me something. It was telling me not in a quiet whisper but rather an aggressive yell, “HEY DUMMY, I NEED A REST!” I was so wrapped up in trying to complete as many classes in as many consecutive days as I could that I completely lost sight of the entire purpose of my practice. As I look back now I realize my ego had taken over and with every class I tried to cram into my schedule thinking I was furthering my practice, I actually wasn’t doing as much good as I believed. I was present, on my mat which definitely counts for something, but my muscles were tired, overworked, and close to the point of exhaustion. The first thing I did when the challenge was over was to consciously make an effort to do nothing. I didn’t go to a class for a couple of days. My brain felt guilty but my other muscles were thanking me. I noticed that after a few days of having my muscles recover and rest, I had more energy but more than that, I was able to go deeper into some postures. My forward folds were deeper, my twists were deeper, my body was more balanced and my mind seemed clearer. Why is that?
Any sort of physical activity that is done on a consistent basis can lead to muscle fatigue and too much fatigue can lead to greater risk of injury. If you’re a runner for example, you know how much stress your legs and feet can take. How many consecutive days would you run without giving your legs a rest? Yoga is no different. It is a very physical activity that works many muscles of your body. Each time you practice, you are tearing the muscles in different parts of your body. This is why you feel the burn after flowing 5 times or holding warrior II for longer than usual. The muscles are gradually tearing. Growth happens when these muscles repair themselves and the way they repair themselves is through time and rest. This process of muscle repair is what makes you stronger and allows you to eventually deepen your practice. When I first started my practice I would be so sore the day after practice, now I can take multiple classes in one day without that effect. My body has become stronger over time which has allowed me to go deeper, hold longer, and get into some positions I thought I would never be in.
In yoga, we constantly hear our teachers saying, “listen to your body, take rest when you need it” . I never really paid much attention to it at first. I wanted to push myself as hard as I could to get to where I thought I had to be physically. I injured myself on a couple of occasions because of this. I felt the fatigue in my muscles but didn’t want to let up. My ego was guiding my practice. In time I came to realize that this was not at all what yoga was about. Yoga is about being in tune with your body, being balanced in yourself. In a yoga class you have the luxury of laying down on your mat and just letting your body melt into the Earth. Try it sometime. Go to a class and just let your body absorb the teaching while your muscles are given a chance to relax. When I learned how to let go of expectations, and gave my body the rest that it was craving, I found I was able to go further than I ever imagined. Now I regularly take Savasana for entire classes at a time. I just wish I would have listened to my body sooner.