Slowing Down in a Speedy Culture (Is Uncomfortable)
Updated: May 10
What does it mean to rest? What does it look like in our society where we seem to always be rushing onto the next thing and proving our worth through endless production? What sort of discomforts arise when rest is suggested?
I remember feeling very restless in my young adulthood. I would wake up and feel uncomfortable just laying in bed. Like physically, anxiously uncomfortable. My programming was such that I felt I needed to get up right away and get to work on something. It didn’t really matter what.
I’m not sure when I decided it was okay to linger. Okay to lay in bed and read a book or binge Netflix. It probably did have something to do with the advent of streaming services. I remember times when I wanted to laze around and binge a show, but that desire feeling incredibly uncomfortable unless I was sick. I felt my value to be interwoven with my activity, so when I tried to slow down for a chunk of hours I actually felt nauseous, as though I was doing something very wrong. And as a first child and a good student — I abided by following the rules and was terrified of getting in trouble. The desire to get things ‘right’ has always been quite embedded.
At some point, I decided it was important to slow down and give myself periods of stillness — even an entire day spent watching Outlander or the like. I decided it was acceptable to do that once in a while and not just when I was physically ill. I made a connection that stillness and mindless rest (very different from mindful rest like restorative yoga and yoga nidra) was good for me and I needed it here and there to balance out the doing of my days.
As a yoga teacher, an adamant proponent of rest, and, particularly, Yoga Nidra, I know I’m in a different place than many people in our community, our society. I’ve felt the ebb and flow of purposeful rest in my own life, and the effects have impacted me in profound ways. For all of my activism and community organizing around important issues, I feel this topic might actually be the most revolutionary of them all.
As I consider my old anxious compulsion to keep moving and stay busy, the physical counterparts get activated too. I still feel it in my body. The rising tension moving from my belly up into my chest. A swirling sensation meant to get me moving because it is uncomfortable to sit with that sensation. It’s much simpler and in line with the expectations of our world to feel that discomfort as an indication that being still is wrong. It’s what protects us from challenging our own individual programming and the programming of a sick society.
What if the discomfort that occurs in the body at the suggestion of a slow hour or a slow day — whether that’s nausea, swirling anxiety, or however it shows up in your own body — is actually an indication in this case to hang out with it. Perhaps it’s an invitation to feel the discomfort and consider when you learned that it was unacceptable to be still and give yourself pleasurable rest.
In my early days as a baby yoga teacher I often heard, “The pose you dislike the most is the one you need.” This line of thinking is flawed and encourages practitioners to power through backbends and twists in a way that’s unsustainable and over time causal of injuries. But this — what I’m talking about here — is a different kind of dislike. A different kind of discomfort. After all, pushing ourselves physically is indeed a symptom of the same culture that insists we produce in order to be valued.
Perhaps the discomfort some of us feel when we consider rest indicates that something is wrong with the system. We as a culture are so consumed with production, and we inflict shame through labeling others who don’t conform as lazy. Our continued existence as a species has always been dependent on being a part of a group; those who were different were cast off, their survival uncertain.
It seems to me that the discomfort I felt at a young age was absolutely a symptom of a rotting culture, a byproduct of late stage capitalism and the deep knowing that there was another way to exist.
And so, I rest. And I consider things like this so that others who feel the same nagging discomfort at even the thought of going against the grain might have an example and even some hope. Because, dear friends, there is another way.
Yoga Nidra. Insight Timer is a free app with many Yoga Nidra recordings. We like Hilary Jackendoff’s best.
Rest is the Best! A Tale of Burnout, Trauma, & Yoga Nidra by Ashley Stevick
Yin, Restorative, Slow Flow yoga. Important: We encourage you to search out teachers who encourage you to make the practice your own, offer different options, and acknowledge the natural ebb and flow of their own and each individual’s practice.
Pause, Rest, Be: Stillness Practices for Courage in Times of Change by Octavia Raheem
Ways to Normalize Rest:
Stop holding up production and busyness as a means of your self worth and those around you.
Talk about rest, the importance of rest, and how you’re actually resting.
Do more than talk about rest. Actually, ya know, rest. Discover what that means to you.
When someone asks what you’ve been up to or how you are — find something to say other than ‘busy.’ Maybe say, “I’m finding ways to incorporate more rest into my days.”
More and more, I’m finding ways to incorporate more rest into my days.
I choose rest.
I am deserving of rest and healing.
My new way of being is of compassion and kindness to my Self in all ways.