As we head into this new month and begin our 60 Day Strong Challenge it’s important to remember to set aside some time for our bodies and minds to relax. If we come out of the gate at full steam we burn out too early, and if you choose not to allow your body to rest and recover properly, at some point your body decides for you.
There are many different ways that you can allow your body and mind this rehabilitation period, I will cover a handful of the techniques that have been useful to me in the past and encourage you to take this list into consideration but also don’t be afraid to find new rituals of your own that work for you.
The first, and probably the most obvious method of rest- Sleep.
On average, adults need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night! Sleep is important in improving our memory and learning as well as facilitating proper brain function while awake. Sleeping too much or too little can have a negative impact on your sleep cycle and also have an effect on your body and mind during waking hours. Sleeping helps regulate the production of various hormones as well- including melatonin, which promotes sleep. In addition to melatonin regulation, it stabilizes the production of cortisol which is part of your body’s natural stress response system. Your body also has a more steady production of leptin and ghrelin which are the hormones that our brain releases to increase or decrease our appetite. This is partially why sometimes a lack of sleep leads to higher stress levels and weight gain. To top it all off- during sleep is when our body has time to repair itself. It releases growth hormones to support muscle and bone development and allows the body to heal.
If you’re anything like me, my schedule is pretty chaotic and there is almost no way I’m going to be able to squeeze in 7-9 hours of sleep every single night! This brings me to another way you can “rest” and allow your body time to rejuvenate- Yoga and Meditation.
While some styles and of yoga target your muscles, yin yoga targets your deep connective tissues like your fascia (tiny muscle fibers), ligaments, joints and bones. This style is more restorative and is often done by holding a series of poses for 5 minutes or more. Yin yoga is about gently applying stress to certain areas of your body and Restorative yoga is meant to fully support your body to the point where you can allow it to completely relax and begin to heal. Restorative yoga is done with several different types of props including pillows, yoga blocks, bolsters, blankets, and stretch straps. I have actually fallen asleep doing Restorative yoga before because of the deep state of physical and mental relaxation I find myself in. Yoga is a great alternative method that still allows you to use your body, move it, and stretch it, while not pushing yourself to your limits and allowing it to simultaneously heal.
Meditation and mindfulness can be a little trickier for those who have never done it before. For starters- give yourself permission to do nothing! In a society that is constantly demanding things from us and is obsessed with achievement and “the grind”, just give yourself that permission to do absolutely nothing. Other than food and water, rest is one of our most basic essential needs. Meditation allows the mind to detach from the stresses of the outside world and creates a state of deep relaxation in both the mind and body that can give us the same feeling or rejuvenation as if we just took a long nap. As a beginner, you may only be able to sit still for a few minutes before you start to get antsy and the pressure of the outside world creeps back in. More advanced practitioners can meditate for hours on end, but personally, I feel the benefits of it even after just five minutes. Below are a few little mindfulness exercises for beginners that may help put your mind at ease:
Just be “with” your breath. Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down with a straight spine and focus on your inhale and exhale. Focus on how the rise and fall of your belly (diaphragm) feels and allow yourself to settle into that natural rhythm of breathing without forcing any extra time on the inhale and exhale or any pauses in-between. Just allow every breath to flow freely into the next. With every inhale feel re-energized and with every exhale feel a little bit lighter and allow yourself to settle deeper into this relaxation. Give yourself a soft smile and feel the muscles in your face relax and as you continue to breathe, the softness of this gentle smile will start to spread to the rest of your body. If you feel your mind start to wander to other thoughts- gently and without judgment return your attention to your breathing. Come out of your left-brain (thinking/judging mind) and into your right-brain (feeling/sensation). Do this for as little or as long as feels appropriate.
Sometimes I set a timer for just five minutes where I can sit on the floor and just do nothing. I try not to worry about how much time is left. It’s only five minutes. I can have my eyes open or closed. I close my eyes if I want to focus on my breathing and clear my thoughts. If I don’t mind focusing my attention on something else in the room I keep them open. Noticing patterns on the wall or floor I maybe hadn’t seen before. Noticing something outside my window that is new or maybe choosing something in the room and thinking about all the things that had to happen for that thing to come into existence. How many people were involved in making this blanket or chair or table. Just allowing myself to do nothing and sit still. This is particularly useful for me when I’m feeling stressed or busy.
Starting a gratitude journal can be seen as meditative and mindful as well. Making an effort to list one thing every day that you are grateful for can lower stress levels and turns our mindset to joy which helps our brain release chemicals that heal and relax us.
Lastly, here are a few more things to keep in mind to ensure your body can function at its highest potential:
Eat foods that are good for you! Oatmeal, bananas, avocados, and fatty fish are all great sources of energy. Additionally, foods like leafy greens, eggs, berries, and nuts/seeds are high in protein and all known to help the body recover.
Drink WATER! Dehydration can result in brain fog and even injury during your workout.
Make time to do something that you enjoy. It has been proven that laughter decreases pain, helps your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation, and can reduce anxiety. So take time to do something that makes you smile and makes you feel fulfilled. Whether it’s watching your favorite TV show, reading your favorite book, going to a live show for an artist you enjoy, or spending quality time with people (or pets) that will make you feel at ease.
Remember that Rest and Relaxation are just as important as physical movement, food, and water. Take care of your body and mind so that both can function at their highest potential. At the end of the day, we’re only humans and we’ll make mistakes. Just be kind to yourself and take it all one day at a time.