I spent my spring break with my friend Jill, volunteering on a farm in Dunbaron, New Hampshire on a WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) trip. WWOOF is designed as an exchange opportunity; in return for volunteering on the farm, we received housing and delicious homemade meals. The WWOOF program also enables people to travel around the globe while meeting new people and learning about their lifestyles, sustainable living, and farming techniques. Though we only spent a little less than a week in Dunbarton, we came home with lessons that we are confident will carry us through life.
There was one message I took away from this small town in New Hampshire that particularly resonated with me. Although we worked extremely hard throughout our time there, the days were filled with serenity and quiet minds. When we were working, we were really working. And when we weren’t, it was a time of quiet reflection and peace. Meal times were lengthy and deliberate. Our hosts Susan and Ken prepared the table beautifully. Susan spent a considerable amount of time in the kitchen, ensuring each meal was made from scratch with the freshest ingredients (most of them coming right from their backyard). We ate mindfully. Jill and I found that this was such a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of college life and life at home in general. After lunch, we fell into a pattern of taking about an hour or so to journal or knit or read and after dinner we did the same. One night we went to a folk concert; another night we played Bananagrams. I felt so centered; my mind was so settled. Now, obviously life doesn’t always work out this way. We all face busy schedules and times where we simply need to get less sleep than we probably should be getting. But I admire Susan and Ken for their desire to set mental health as a priority, whether they knew that’s what they were doing or it was unintentional.
I think we all can consider our schedules and determine ways to set aside time for ourselves. Many times it’s our decision to overload ourselves and I think many of us fall victim to doing so; we have the power to take obligations off our plate if we’re not mentally able to commit ourselves to them. If we can find even just a little bit of time for ourselves each day, we can be more productive when we need to be. Taking time to relax your mind and body is what gives us the energy to reach our full potential when we need to work hard. In yoga, instructors tell the class: “If you ever feel like you need a break or need to reconnect to your breath, take child’s pose. Even when you don’t feel like you need a break, it may be what will benefit you the most.” Of course it is important to push your body, challenge your mind, and work hard, but I think we are bombarded with the idea that we always need to be fighting to go that extra step or struggling to hold on for just a few more moments, when really what we need most of the time is more rest.
It’s important to become in-tune with our bodies and minds so that we can recognize when we just need a break more than anything else. Although you may think you’re invincible, when you’re operating at one thousand miles per hour, at some point you’ll crack in one way or another. This “cracking” may be in the form of a complete stress overload, losing your temper, exhaustion, or physical signs of body exhaustion such as when you feel that you can’t push any harder, when simple tasks become more difficult than normal, when your muscles are in a constant state of tension. Now I want to make my point clear: These “warning signs” are an issue when they have occurred for a prolonged time. Muscle soreness is good for you; it means you worked hard. When climbing up the stairs the day after a workout is a challenge, you should smile because you know your body was pushed out of its comfort zone. Going to bed tired is wonderful because it shows that you made the most out of your day. It’s when you don’t give yourself a break and these signs do not go away that it becomes a sign to you that you need to relax.
The body and mind benefit from your work when you are in a resting state. You retain all of the information you learned throughout the day when you are sleeping; that is when all the new knowledge soaks into the brain. So if you are always working and don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be receiving all of the benefits that you could be. You’d be selling yourself short! In terms of working your body, you gain muscle and strength when your muscles are recovering. My running coaches always told me that it was important to have a rest day and to not overwork yourself. Resting is just as important as working hard. You cannot improve when you don’t rejuvenate. There needs to be a balance.
This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn and I’m still working on it, as many people are, but it’s such an important one. I notice considerable benefits in my mind and body when I give them time to recuperate. Our bodies and minds do so much for us each and every day and it’s important to give them a break and allow them to catch a breath. When we are rested, we are happier, more confident, and more prepared for what is to come our way. I believe that rest is our best tool for navigating through the demands of life and I also believe that rest is what people lack the most.
As Susan and Ken modeled, work when you should be working and rest when you’re not.
A lifestyle blog about veganism, mood swings, & other chatter.