Rest & Recovery Rocks My World
In addition to stressing the importance of making time (and patience) for ballet practice, in her book The Ballet Companion, Eliza Gaynor Minden recommends that aspiring dancers also “make time for rest,” specifically stating that “Professional dancers generally take one day off a week. Allow yourself at least this much rest. Your body needs it.” (The Ballet Companion p.15)
Of course, this recommended minimum applies not only to dancers but to all humans! Life Coach Talane Meidaner insists that, “You need a day to do whatever you want with no plans, no list of things to do, no scheduled brunches, no lunches–a day to be totally free and spontaneous, to rest, to play, to honor your spiritual self.” (Coach Yourself to Success p.216)
Here I am exploring the importance of time off and ways to build it into our lives. Just sharing what works for me and recommendations from friends and professionals, which is no substitute for the advice of a medical professional if you are injured or unwell.
How I know I need a break
Let me begin by saying that I don’t agree with the slogan that you should find work that you love so much that you never want to take a vacation. That is not a healthy balance! And, to my great delight, I already do work that makes my heart sing, fulfills me and brings me profound joy. But I STILL need breaks to prevent burnout and stay sane!
What happens is, when I have been working consistently for a while without a significant vacation/time off, I will notice a loss in my characteristic patience, especially with the little ones at first, and then with seemingly all of humanity.
In times like those when I’m jonesing for a holiday, I become frustrated, overwhelmed, and snippy, but give me some days off (at least 2-3 in a row, and ideally two weeks to one month) and I am cured!
Without adequate time off, I lose perspective and therefore struggle to prioritize, focus, and strategize. Time away from the normal activities of my life, however much I love and enjoy them, as well as physical removal from my ordinary haunts is so refreshing. A mix of visiting friends and family and adventures to new locations is always nice.
These last months and years of pandemic have been a hard time for my wanderlust and thirst for a vacation getaway. I am grateful that we at least got out of town for a weekend on the Ahr Valley for my birthday, especially before the tragic devastation there. Actively scheming our next escapes and greatly wish to visit my parents in the near future!
In the meantime, I am planning to take time off from some of my projects, such as releasing my blog and new podcast episodes, in the month of August. I will still be teaching in-person and online, and will turn my focus to organizing my efforts for the fall. I have so many ideas and exciting upcoming podcast guests and topics, but want to make sure I’m delivering the best quality that I can, as well as make the mental and physical space to enjoy the process.
Rest as injury-prevention
With regard to our physical bodies, preventing undue fatigue by resting adequately helps us to prevent injury. When we do injure ourselves, immediately following the RICE protocol, the first step of which is to rest, is advised.
Becoming aware of and respecting our body’s early warning signals that we need to rest is critical.
Gaynor Minden speaks about our power to heal ourselves and the need to respect limitations: “The body is quite good at mending itself but only if it’s given a chance to rest thoroughly. Try to rest the moment you feel an injury coming on, not after you’ve been to a doctor. The sooner you rest, the less likely you are to further stress the damaged tissue. Resist the temptation to try using the injured part periodically just to see if it still hurts. A healthcare professional will be able to advise you whether to continue resting it, do isometric exercises, or resume your regular activities.” (The Ballet Companion p.247)
The same is true of our mental and emotional well-being, we need to pay attention for warning signs of psychological stress and behave accordingly to allow time to rest, recover, and consult with a trusted professional. If Simone Biles can do it, so can we!
Self-Care & Sharpening the Saw
So how do we get the rest that we need? In this sense, self-care means identifying and taking care of your needs. It’s not always glamorous to rest or to do other practices that support our foundational well-being, but if we aren’t proactive about it, things have a way of escalating into larger problems.
In Coach Yourself to Success, Meidaner devotes several sections to rest and self-care concerns, such as “Identify Your Needs,” “Design Your Ideal Life,” and “Banish Adrenaline Burnout” (p.110, 130, 215).
“Sharpen the Saw” is Habit 7 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, my favorite version of which is Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, where he explains:
“Habit 7 is all about keeping your personal self sharp so that you can better deal with life. It means regularly renewing and strengthening the four key dimensions of your life–your body, your brain, your heart, and your soul.” (p.206)
So what is missing in terms of sharpening your own saw? What does your ideal life look like in terms of rest, recovery, and recreation? The following are some ideas of places to look…
8 Hours of Quality Sleep nightly
When it comes to physical rest, the guideline is to shoot for at least 8 hours of deep, regenerative sleep each night. For myself, I find anywhere from 8-10 hours ideal, though on days where I get less and on lazy days off, I like to add a nap as well.
Part of getting good sleep on a regular basis is maintaining a regular sleep schedule, although I find this consistency challenging when my work and creative schedule varies greatly day-to-day.
If you sometimes have trouble sleeping, you might be interested to hear that I devoted another blog to Seeking Sweet Sleep: Yogic Insomnia Solutions as well as Podcast Episode 053: Yogic Approaches to Sweet Sleep & Natural Insomnia Solutions and the Yoga for Sweet Sleep YouTube video as resources and strategies to help.
Naps as needed
In the book Succulent Wild Woman, Sark emphasizes the value of nap-taking and I am totally on board with this! Like my sweet-tooth, my enthusiasm for napping seems to run in my family, and especially in very active and busy times of life, naps help me relax and refresh to keep going on important projects.
Sark claims that, “None of us get enough naps. Naps are essential for mental health. Naps are productive–contrary to what we’ve been taught.” (p.24) Whether it’s a 15-minute power nap in the middle of a long work day or a leisurely Sunday snooze, these periods of rest are something I relish on a regular basis.
Sacred evenings off
Meidaner also advises setting aside “sacred evenings” in Coach Yourself to Success:
“A sacred evening is just that: an evening you reserve for yourself to do exactly as you please, whether that is going for a stroll in the park, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, reading a book, going to a concert, or just doing nothing at all. It is a time for you to be by yourself, to play, to rest, to relax. You have nothing planned or scheduled. It is sacred because you must hold it as inviolable time. That which is sacred is separate from mundane activity and set apart for a higher purpose. If you don’t take sacred time for yourself, it will get scheduled away like the rest of your life.” (p. 102)
I can hear busy families protesting that they couldn’t possibly take such time off, and apparently Meidaner did as well, as she doubles down on the necessity for parents and caretakers to take the time to themselves: “If you have kids, it is ten times more important that you give yourself sacred evenings. You need time to engage in adult activities and time to be totally selfish.” (p.102)
At least one day off per week
As I mentioned at the start, Eliza Gaynor Minden, Talane Meidaner, and many other experts recommend at least one full day off each week. I admit that taking a full day off each week is always in progress for me, as an freelance educator and coach my work often comes piecemeal and is challenging to consolidate.
Nevertheless, I am always striving to have a full unscheduled day each week. Part of this is not setting an alarm to wake up to, at least one day per week and as much as possible on holidays and vacations. Sometimes it means staying in pajamas the whole day. Sometimes it makes space for gentle restorative yoga, soothing music, candles and incense, sometimes baths, often naps, laying on beaches or floating in warm water when possible, pleasure reading and writing, lounging in cafes, sketching, flower-gazing, bird-watching, museum wandering, pondering works of art, and having someone else cook to name a few. These recuperative times can be alone or in peaceful companionship.
Meidaner reminds us, “You will burn out if you aren’t taking at least one day a week completely off. Somewhere, somehow this got lost. We schedule our weekends away. Our bodies, our souls need a day of rest. According to the Bible, even God took a day of rest. What better role model could there be?” (Coach Yourself to Success p.215-6)
My goal for regular vacation-taking is to include quarterly-or-so mini-breaks or getaways, and approximately twice-annual longer vacations (at least 2 weeks). I appreciate travel, locally and worldwide, for the new sights, smells, tastes, nature, and cultural experiences. I tend to rotate between travel to visit family and friends, and voyages to new places, though it has become more difficult to do the latter and much easier to do the former from Europe.
As Anna Johnson relates in the book Three Black Skirts, retreats can be a nice option for those with the privilege of time and money: “The advantage of a retreat is that all practical needs are taken care of and there are no external distractions: Someone else cooks, someone wakes you at dawn, birds sing, and everyone around you is united by curiosity and a common aim.” (p.218)
Since quarantine, I’ve gotten into the idea of creating a retreat experience for ourselves at home and would be interested to support others in doin the same – would you like to see such an offering?
Whether we can manage an actual retreat or not, we can intentionally design our time off as we please, to meet our needs and current circumstances, keeping in mind our ideal and long-term vision of the role rest and recovery play in our lives.
Tips for Maximizing your Downtime
Let’s say you’ve managed to schedule time off, how do you keep it available for yourself and make the most of it? Here are some skills we need to develop to do so:
If we neglect to develop the skill of declining invitations or saying “no” to opportunities, we will not have the spaciousness and free time to ourselves that we need to rejuvenate us for our most important priorities.
Courtney Carver of the blog Be More With Less is a great proponent of saying no, and shares in the article, “10 Simple Ways to Help You Say No” that, “It’s hard to say no. It can feel uncomfortable. You might feel like you are letting people down. Even so, it’s one of the most important ways to create the time you want for what matters most…It takes time to take care of ourselves and when we don’t take that time, it’s hard to take care of anyone else at least not for very long. Continuing to serve everyone but ourselves will leave us completely depleted and there will be consequences.”
In order to make more breathing room in our daily and weekly schedule, as well as long-term, we must develop the skill of saying “no” when our heart is not 100% “yes.” Sometimes we must even refuse opportunities we would like to accept!
Leave Work at the Office (or workspace)
When you do have time off, whether it be a sacred evening, full day off, or longer vacation, leave your work at the office! Anna Johnson admonishes us: “Carrying the office in a metaphoric lump in your handbag or hauling it with you on vacation or treasured getaway weekends is more about guilt than it is about diligence. Nine times out of ten the work is ignored and serves only as some sort of physical penance for wasted working hours.” (Three Black Skirts p.135)
Productive Uses of Free Time
Be mindful about how you are spending the precious free time you have created for yourself. Perhaps you would like to pursue hobbies and amateur creative outlets, outdoor or athletic activities, travel, fiction, pleasure, or “beach reading,” reflection and writing or meditation.
Consider which activities are truly restful and restorative for you, and which actually drain energy and inspiration from your life. This will look different for each person, but some habits we consider relaxing are more beneficial than others. As Anna Johnson explains it,
“Refine your relaxation. How you choose to unwind affects the way you work. Real downtime means restoring, instead of depleting, your energy supply. Typical escape routes such as television, alcohol, coffee, and the phone leave jangled nerves in their wake instead of soothed ones. Of the four opiates, TV and the phone are the biggest time suckers. Try to spend some of your downtime doing something deeply restful like yoga, meditation, gentle exercise, or inspirational reading. Books unrelated to work have a funny way of filtering back in subtle, positive ways.” (Three Black Skirts p.136)
In these times of seemingly-endless screentime and smartphone use, we may consider “digital sabbaticals” or breaks from social media and/or other electronic connectivity, another topic which I may explore in the future.
If you’d like to learn more about reflection, writing, meditation, and relaxation, you may also enjoy my Reflective Practice Through Journaling and 2021 Meditation Practice Challenge blogs and my Yoga Nidra relaxation video.
Don’t skip Physical Therapy & mindful movement
One thing I (and experts) recommend you do NOT take time away from is your basic physical therapy, training, or conditioning. One of my professors from graduate school, Betsy Fisher, shared wisdom with me about how especially after a certain age, it is not worth it to take a total break from exercise.
Her opinion, which I now share, is that it simply requires too much time to regain the strength and stability lost after a break of, say, a couple weeks or more. It is too great a risk getting taken out by injury when we return to dancing, whether it be performance, teaching, or recreation and ultimately is easier and less painful to maintain than to regain! So do take a break from super-intensive or strenuous training if you like, but keep a certain baseline of conditioning so you don’t put yourself at undue risk from too much time away.
Rest for the weary
We all know that adequate rest is required to feel well and perform our best, but most still are challenged to take the breaks we need. “No rest for the weary” and “I can sleep when I’m dead” are commonly-expressed sentiments. Workaholism is rampant.
Stepping away from my projects and aspirations provides me fresh energy, I get perspective, the opportunity to check-in with myself, make sure my priorities are in order, and cultivate my personal relationship with my partner, family, friends, and myself. I get back my optimism, pep, and patience. Challenges are more manageable and I’m resilient to adapt to change. Learning becomes easier and I can appreciate the process of digesting new information, making connections, working with clients and students, and creating.
Although in some times in life it may feel impossible to take a break–when you have a newborn or as you are taking on another kind of new responsibility, for example. But it serves our well-being and performance best to become aware of our needs and plan for them, preventing burnout and keeping us rejuvenated and ready to take on our dreams!
Relaxing Bedtime + Wind-Down Yoga Practices
Below are some chill yoga practices that you may enjoy:
- “Om Mantra for articulation & relaxation” (10 minutes)
- “Heart Warming Love Yoga + Meditation Moment” (10 minutes)
- “Yogic Breathing Practice – Pranayama – Nadi Shodhana” (15 minutes)
- “Yoga Cool-Down – Pigeon, Seated Stretch + Savasana” (15 minutes)
- “Intro to Hip Stretches – for ballet technique and functional range of motion” (15 minutes)
- “Shoulder Release Yoga – Quick 16 Minute Upper-Body Stretch” (16 minutes)
- “Fall Forest Savasana Yoga – gentle stretch & relaxation floor practice” (20 minutes)
- “Slow Your Roll – Gentle Circles Yoga” (20 minutes)
I also have a few related past podcasts, such as 011: Creating Good Space, 023: Care & Actualization of the Self, 031: Healthy Habit-Building, & 033: Daily Meditation Challenge.
- What helps you rest, recover, and rejuvenate?
- Do you take regular sacred evenings off, a full unscheduled day per week, and vacations?
- What is missing in terms of “sharpening your own saw?”
- What does your ideal life look like in terms of rest and recreation?
Send me an email or come on over to the A Blythe Coach Facebook Page to share your experience with time off, saying no, and productive rest!
Blythe Stephens, MFA & Bliss Catalyst
she/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: Dance Education & Coaching
move through life with balance, grace, & power
DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.
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