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Deep Rest - The What, Why and How (article)

ORIGINALLY Published by: Didier Godart

Deep Rest - The What, Why and How

Based on a discussion with Daniel Kluken, International high-performance coach and trainer and Ingvild Molenaar, international longevity and body intelligence expert

This article is about the importance for our mental and physical health to bestow a portion of our precious and sanctified time to not practising anything, not being consumed by any activity, just unplugging ourselves. It explains why while leisure activities help us to cool down, they do not actually help us fully recovering from our high performing, demanding, strenuous and straining lifestyle. Eventually, it clarifies how a simple but uncomfortable and confronting concept as deep rest can help here!

8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of pleasure 

In the midst of the industrial revolution, at a time where working days have been getting longer and longer workers voiced a demand for a life outside work. In 1817 Robert Owen, an English entrepreneur launched the famous slogan that will be taken up by millions of workers around the world: "8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of pleasure". A century later after bitter trade union fights, reformers eventually made it a reality. 

Nowadays, our ultra-competitive economy driven by the adage “Time is money makes us believe that we are all capitalists and that anything that doesn’t produce value doesn’t worth our time. Furthermore, we are associating the fact to be busy with being successful. 

In this context, the boundaries between work, leisure and rest look increasingly flimsy. There is obviously not enough time in a day for us to bestow to this threesome and as we can’t lengthen our day, we tempt to bestow our precious time to work and pleasure, skipping rest perceived as not efficient and rewarding.   

For Ingvild, the above adage is incomplete. When we work, we don’t just bargain our time but also our energy for money. So, the right adage should be “Time and energy is money” and as a consequence we are constantly on the go, striving for continual improvement, greatness and success, not allowing ourselves to take things slowly, feel tired, or take a break. 

Ingvild explains, people thing they could get more than their natural energy, but we, human being, only have a specific amount of energy at our disposal. We can, of course, learn to master it but we will never naturally have the energy for two people. To compensate, people are taking drugs and other energetic substances.

Despite the fact that such a lifestyle provides us with certain achievements, in the long term this is not sustainable and can results in crashing in flame, burn out or depression. 

When I was 26, I experienced a hard burn-out but before I acknowledged it, I came to a stage where, in a way, I convinced myself that tiredness is a thought, hence if I stop thinking that I am tired, tireless will subside by itself. As long as I was keeping going and find joy in what I do, I can go forever, just like ALL THE OTHERS. Four days after this epiphany, a nest of birds woke up on my head and started chipping "pip pip pip ». Then I crashed for 9 months, not even being able to grab a glass of water. I am been draining myself for two years. I just neglected the feedback sent by my body and mind, simply ignoring them, getting deeper and deeper in my energy mortgage until bankruptcy. My body and mind refusing to advance any additional ounce of energy – Ingvild

When people get depleted of energy or burned-out, the body and mind stop functioning.

Daniel explains, we have to understand that it is like a mortgage we take on our energy. If we take something we also need to give in return. If we don’t find that balance between performing and resting, between sympathetic activities and parasympathetic activities, between stress and relaxation, it mortgages on our future energy and both our physical and mental health.

Our mind and body are the only ones we’ve got, and they support us as much as they are able to, no matter what we subject them to. However, if we do not pay attention to our mind and body and deny ourselves of rest and relaxation, we can find ourselves getting sick and deteriorating both physically and mentally.

Rest and relaxation are commonly used interchangeably. But what do they really mean? 

Relaxation and rest are a vital necessity when it comes to reducing the arousal we experience from stress and/or anxiety, improving our mood and cognitive functioning like decision making, memory and creativity, lowering the risk for depression and anxiety and other heart-related issues. Relaxation and rest help also to boost our immunity and improve our ability to cope with adversity. But while relaxation and rest work hand in hand, they differ in their level of contribution to the above mental and physical benefits. 

Relaxation can be defined as the release of tension and the refreshment of the mind and body. Relaxation is in a way equivalent to the glass of fresh water after a walk under heavy sun. It takes place when we engage in sundry leisure activities such as sitting on the couch, reading, TV binging, drinking booze, going out with friends, dancing, exercising, breathing, taking an ice or warm bath or meditating to only name a few. 

Relaxation doesn’t help fully recovering

If all these leisure activities help us to cool down, they continue in a way to strain and distract our mind and nervous system with inputs, hence hindering full refuelling. 

Also, as human being we are connected to the energy around us, hence if we are in a space with a lot of people around us, we can be more easily and quickly drained that if we sit out in nature.

Daniel explains, imagine that you are high performing either in your business, social or sport life or even all together. When you finish with this high performance, you cool down through the practice of one of the above-mentioned relaxation activities. But before having allowed your body and mind reaching the minimum necessary refuelling level (depicted by the white line on the below schema), while you are still turned ON, engrossed in some sympathetic ad stressing activities, you jump headlong in your next project or activities. You pick again in your performance, your level of stress and sympathetic activity surge. Once completed, you are not able to go down that deep anymore in the relaxation, you don’t reach the neutral level and certainly not experience the deep rest before the next project is popping up. Over time, your performance pick gets lower and lower. Taking the smartphone analogy, you are constantly ping-ponging between zero and 30 percent battery level. Then you get to the point where you feel more and more drained of energy, depressed or burned-out. 

Deep Rest

Sustainable high performance is all about understanding and mastering our energy physically, mentally, emotionally and all together. The creation of a sustainable high performance requires a balance between cycles of high performance and really deep rest periods. If we peak higher, we also have to rest deeper. The longer we push ourselves, the longer rest should last and in fact, if we spend a lot of energy, then we have to recover more and in fact, we have not only to recover more but buffer up again to find resilience and balance. 

In the Covid time, shops entrance was controlled in such a way that when the maximum of people in the shops reached the limits required by the social distancing, they just stop accepting people for a while. The same tenet should be adopted in what concerns our inputs. To process all our inputs requires us to do nothing, do not take anymore and give the time for our brain, mind and body to digest. 

To progress and find a personal biological rhythm, we need time to digest, time where our subconscious can digest, can unwind and get back to a neutral state. 

To optimize our mental and physical health it is important that we invest time both in rest and relaxation. But rest allows our energy (fuel) to be diverted to the reparation, restoration and regeneration of our mind, cells and tissues and in this, rest is the ultimate way to fully recover and maintain sustainable high performance and energy management. Therefore, we must make it a priority, particularly after a mentally/physically stressful event or day. 

But what is deep rest actually? 

To allow regeneration of the agricultural soil after having been intensely exploited, lands are temporarily refrained from cultivating and are allowed to lie useless and unproductive. In the same way, deep rest is a state wherein we are not practising anything, not being consumed by any activity, just unplugging ourselves. 

Daniel explains, with the Covid confinement a lot of people have forcefully experienced stages of deep rest, of not being stressed and hurried all the time, even if there were some other worries going on. As a result, people are becoming more creative and more connected with each other. That’s the difference between just taking some relaxation and really going to the stage of deep rest. 

Sleep and naps are common resting forms. But, explains Ingvild, rest state can also be achieved while being awake, sitting on the couch or in the nature or a terrace without telephone, book, screen, music. Just sitting and being there on the present time with no distraction other than the natural flow of live surrounding ourselves. Just observing, noticing without judgement like cattle watching trains passing by and certainly not like a dog barking over the passers-by or running behind cars! Deep rest is a time where we are just with ourselves and our subconscious and get some space to just “pfffffff”, get the pressure off.

“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories, in undisturbded solitudes and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time…They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works...I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune…My days were not days of the week nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock” - Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Actually, it doesn’t have to be so strict than not doing anything at all.  One can also find deep rest through the practice of all kind of activities such as walking, gardening or the gym. As long as these practices are performed without any goal or intention to gain something other than just find rest. No competition or challenge because then there is no space to digest.

Deep rest could reveal uncomfortable and confronting

Some of my clients start to cry when they are in such rest state because then they have to deal with themselves – Daniel.

For most of us, deep rest could prove uncomfortable confronting and this for two reasons.

First because in our highly competitive society there is a strong sense of guiltiness of not being busy. Boredom is perceived as a dreadful mental sickness. Not being engaged in an activity is understood as not doing anything of our life. Hence, when we stop nourishing the brain with input, our internal dialogues surface. In a way, you are tuning in ourselves. 

How to reach deep rest?

Deep rest requires stepping out from the efficiency mode and get more into the organic rhythm with ourselves - Ingvild

The first two things one could start immediately to improve its awareness about its energy expenditure and deep rest are: 1) Make a choice on what they don’t want to waste their energy. 2) work on their body intelligence. 

Energy management

To access deep rest, we need to explore the other end of the spectrum which is how our mind and nervous system is continually being busy, distracted, always on.

Because of the boredom syndrome, we tempt to do much more than is required or needed. Our everyday life is packed with NOT important NOR urgent tasks that simply drain our energy. 

Let’s take the assumption that our daily energy tank is 100%. If we sum up all the energy required to perform all the tasks we are doing on a daily basis most of us would run out of gas and would probably need a 150 to 200% bigger tanker but this is not possible. We have to rationalize our tasks by eliminating the ones that are not important nor urgent. This requires identifying those tasks and making the appropriate choices. 

However, the biggest problem as human being is to make choice, so choosing what tasks to cast aside can prove challenging. 

If you have the feeling that you have too many tasks but you are still telling yourself that it is absolutely necessarily to do them, that means you don’t have a choice, you didn’t find a way out that story you are telling yourself. Continue to chew on it – Ingvild.

Body intelligence

In order to give your best, you have to be at your best. If you do not look after yourself, who is going to do that for you? Do not be afraid to listen to your body and take time out for yourself - Daniel

Kids intuitively master energy management. They have moment full of energy where they are playing around, yelling, jumping, chatting, crying, laughing and then they have their moment of complete tiredness, stillness and rest. They move from one side to the other intuitively, following their body signals. Growing up, we numb this intuition. We stop listening and feeling those signals sent continuously by our body about what works for us and what doesn’t. What is good for us and not. When it is time for energy expenditure and when it is time to rest. 

Getting with years we move from our body to the head. It is easy to ignore and neglected our body and mind signals, especially when we are in a flow state where everything seems to flow by itself, creativity, successful projects. 

In these periods where we feel great at the top of our performance when nothing seems to stop us, it is just so easy to forget to eat, to take a rest, forget to take care of ourselves. We have to take a moment to get out of the flow and trust that we will get back into it. 

We need to bring to the surface our childhood intuition for energy management on working intelligently with our body and feel the signals without analyzing and fighting them with more thoughts because then are back into their head. Signals aren’t good or bad, they are just there as an indication that it is time for rest and recovery. 

Magic tooling box

  • List all those tasks filling your days. Assess their individual energy consumption. Sum-up all the tasks and identify the ones you are going to say NO to.

  • Allow room in your agenda for deep rest time.

  • Put a timer on 45 minutes and then take at least 10 min of doing absolutely NOTHING, not getting your phone or chatting with people or watching a video or listening to music or browsing but move around a little, go out for a walk without judgement.

  • Balance your mental or emotional energy consumption with physical activities and vis-versa with no intention other than finding rest and digest.

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ORIGINALLY Published by: Didier Godart

I wrote this article based on a discussion with Daniel Kluken, International high-performance mentor and trainer, and Ingvild Molenaar, international longevity and body intelligence expert. It discusses the importance for our mental and physical health to bestow a portion of our precious and sanctified time to not practicing anything, not being consumed by any activity, just unplugging ourselves. It explains why while leisure activities help us to cool down, they do not actually help us fully recovering from our high-performing, demanding, strenuous, and straining lifestyle. Eventually, it clarifies how a simple but uncomfortable and confronting concept as deep rest can help here!

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