The link is found in the science of both the human and animal world. It is the capacity and need for rest in order to maintain optimal health.
Stress expert Robert Sapolsky writes in his book,“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”, that when we experience demands and challenges, our bodies turn on the same response mechanism as animals. He argues that the animal world is able to automatically turn off this mechanism after a challenge and return to a state of rest.
For example, zebras rest following a stressful event. They know how to do this. It is automatic. It goes something like this….zebras grazing peacefully….lion appears looking for lunch….zebras accelerate instantaneously to full flight….lion disappears….zebras return to grazing peacefully, naturally conserving energy. No one needs to remind them to rest.
For humans, muscles rest following the stress of a workout. The rest is needed for your muscles to get stronger. Your muscles knows how to do this. It is automatic. It goes something like this….workout is over….a period of physical rest follows….the muscles recover and become stronger. Sometimes, we need to be reminded to rest.
Our minds need to rest following the stress of challenge. Unfortunately, it is not always automatic. It may go something like this….stress occurs….we respond to meet the demand…another stress occurs…and before you know it, resting the mind can become extremely elusive. We want to rest the mind and yet, we may not know how.
Muscles, minds, and zebras need to rest to maintain health and wellbeing. While the physical fitness may help calm your mind, it may not be enou
Interested? If so, read on…..
I learned about my mind’s ability to rest and physical fitness though personal experience. Many years ago, I started a fitness regime in response to a prolonged period of stress and, let me tell you, I was stressed out! I found the almost daily fitness helped to boost my energy and to significantly reduce the unwelcome stress symptoms. At the same time, I was driven as it felt like I needed physical activity every day to stay in balance and to keep “my lions” at rest.
This feeling of being driven went on for many years. At the same time, I often felt like
”I was hanging on by my fingernails!” Do you know the feeling? Without the exercise, it seemed like I would be overtaken by stress. What I eventually learned is that while my body was strong, flexible, and fit, it wasn’t enough to be in balance as I was unaware of the workings of my mind and how mental activity contributed to my unease. My muscles could rest, however, my mind was another story!
I learned that stress is not the problem. Everyone is stressed! The problem is that we are not like the zebras….many of us don’t have the capacity to calm and recover after the experience of stress. Physical fitness is vital, however, it may not be enough.
One of the most important things to know about stress is that occurs as a result of how you react both in the mind and body, often automatically, to pressures and demands. This response is a learned process and over time we do our best to adapt. A second important fact about stress…very often there is a perception of a “threat” that stimulates the experience of stress. Our experience of threat stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to pour energy into the body to meet the demand. Over activation of this response will eventually create havoc in our minds and body.
The extent to which we are aware of our stress reactivity will vary among individuals. If you are like me, I was largely unaware including both the physical and mind reactions. Physical fitness helped me to deal with the physical which is also know to help the mind to feel better. In the meantime, my mind had a life of its own. Perhaps you know some of the mind’s stress symptoms: anxiety, panic, low mood, trouble concentrating among others. I did’t want to be aware of them. One day, they became too powerful and I couldn’t ignore them.
Twenty years ago, I started a mindfulness practice. It became a major link for me to discover how to find some rest in my mind.
The mindfulness practice became my way of directly learning and understanding my mind’s activity. The approach I used was called “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction”, an educational approach that cultivates an inner capacity for mindfulness as a resource to promote rest and relaxation, to see problems more clearly, and to choose wise action to address the challenges among many other evidenced-based benefits.
Operationally, mindfulness is defined as the awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally to our present moment experience. Because of the propensity of the mind to wander, meditation is used to focus the mind. In the process of focusing and concentration, one starts to become very familiar with the mind’s reactivity.
Mindfulness facilitates knowing these reactions with full awareness. Once known, our capacity for mindfulness is used as a resource to deal with reactivity from a place of calmness, stillness, and equanimity.
Learning about the mind demands commitment, courage, and determination. The effort is worth it and in the last 20 years, there is an increasing volume of scientific research providing evidence of the effectiveness of a mindfulness practice for maintaining health and wellbeing. Consider a mindfulness practice to complement your fitness regime and let the mind and body work together to find balance, strength, health, and sweet rest. Ahhhhhhhh